Interview with Local Marketing Experts Jake Puhl & Adam Zilko

Feb 27th
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Local SEO Interview.

This is Eric here at SEO Book and today we're going to be talking all things local search with a couple of local search experts from Firegang.com.

Jacob Puhl and Adam Zilko are joining us today, thanks for the time guys and we are thrilled to have you here.

Adam: Thank you.

Jacob: Thank you.

For our readers (and listeners), this is quite a deep, informational interview so we've added a couple things to make the information perhaps a bit easier to digest.

Below is an mp3 file which you can download or listen to at your leisure, and I've included links below to make it easier for you to jump back and forth between specific questions/answers. Also, there is a resource section at the end which contains links to any tool or resource mentioned in the post.

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Play File (mp3 link)

Eric: All right, so we've got a lot of questions to get through, here, so I'm going to jump right in. They're actually members here in the SEO Book Forums, and anybody who's listening to this who is a member has probably been amazed at some of the information that they give out. They're definitely experts at this, so we're happy to have them on and get some answers to some of the questions that you folks have been asking.

Interview Sections

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Local Keyword Research

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So I think we'll start with probably a broader question that a lot of people have questions about typically. Running a local SEO campaign, the first part obviously, is how do you go about conducting your initial keyword research for a new site or an existing site? As we know, volume and information tends to be sparse. Do you have specific tools that you use? Do you look at competing sites? How do you do that?

Adam: I can take that, sure. So what we do, if we don't have the data already, of course, is we try to assess competitive sites. We base keywords around services. So if you're, let's say, an attorney practicing in personal injury, then you have certain things you would focus on: car accidents, worker's compensation, to a degree, or wrongful death or things to that effect. So what we do is we build keywords around those service areas. The same thing with dentists: emergency dentistry, orthodontics, root canals, the list goes on basically.

And then what we also have is an in depth intake form that all of our clients are required to fill out when we bring them on. So essentially what they do is they go through and they give us all of the services that they offer and then they tell us how they would search for them. That gives us a base for us to then start doing some research with. Then basically, from the services they mentioned, we can assess variations and if we need to, we can look at large markets and try to assess background profiles, basically based on their anchor text profiling and so on. And then we also try to look at their sites to see how they laid them out. If they've done it right, we can see what key phrases they've built their page copy around and their URL structure around and so on.

Jacob: And carrying on with that, we also look at... Usually clients have Google Analytics already installed, so if they give us access to that, we can pull the past year and see what kind of long-tail traffic that they've just happened to pick up, so that gives us a good indication there.

And then regarding keyword volume, that's an interesting one. Obviously, the best way and the most accurate way is to run a Pay-Per-Click campaign. We've run so many Pay-Per-Click campaigns in different cities that we have an idea based on population and based on business sector how much volume there is out there.

So, for example, we'll take Cincinnati. There's about 1.7 million people here, and we know that a roofer, the roofing industry, there's about 30,000 searches there. I know that, just from past experience, for example, dry cleaners, there's about 5,000 searches. So you can use that to gauge, and then extrapolate on that, based on population size. And you're making assumptions here, but let's say that in a town that's smaller than that, half that size, then you can assume that there is half that volume.

The other thing is looking at Impressions for Google Places. So we'll take a look at different clients in different industries. For example, Population 2 million. We may have about 1,000 to 1,500 Impressions on a fairly high ranking dentist, for example. So those are ways to really gauge different markets and then take population to create ratios and extrapolate that.

Using PPC for Local SEO Campaigns

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Eric: Interesting. So you did mention PPC in there a little bit. I wanted to piggy back on that. Do you find that PPC is crucial for keyword research? Or is it more important on a new site versus an old site? Or does your model of sort of having this data about core industries based on your experience outweigh that a little bit? Or do you find that clients aren't willing to spend that money up front for PPC or how does that usually work?

Adam: I'll take that. So, PPC isn't terribly important to do this whole process. We have a lot of experience knowing or having a good idea as to what services that clients will typically try to focus on for your main headings; your dentists, your attorneys, and so on. So we have a good feel as to what people typically search for when it comes to those. But again, we just try to focus everything back around those main services that those clients offer, and what those... You know, if you were to just section those out, PPC really isn't going to tell you anything more than what you should already have a good idea of.

So when we have our core keywords, let's say for instance it was cosmetic dentistry in a given geographical market; what we can do is we can write out a page copy and whatnot and try to build a backlink profile with diversity in those keywords. But we don't need a Pay-Per-Click to tell us that people look for cosmetic dentistry if that's something that the client does, because there's only going to be so many variations to a decent degree of that: teeth whitening maybe, Zoom, Ambizonline, things to that effect, if they offer those services. If they don't, then obviously you're not going to go after that.

So that just directly ties into your anchor text and we try to basically internally link our backlink profiles and our anchor texts to those pages that are actually built around those specific keywords, if that makes sense. Tell me if it doesn't.

Leveraging Market Knowledge for Keyword Research

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Eric: No, it does. So you've got, say, for instance, you know, the core keywords sort of don't change from market to market, it's just obviously the geographical targeting, so it's not so much the volume. I mean, the volume is going to be what it's going to be. You're more interested in finding out what's actually relevant to the business and going from there, because you can't change the volume, but you can make sure at least the campaign is as targeted as possible.

Adam: Right, and we'll still take their main services and run them through Google's Keyword tools or other tools that we have and we'll check other... I mean, depending on which market, some markets might type in dentists + city and other markets might more heavily type in the city + dentist. So we take that into effect. It typically is not the variation isn't so much that we don't have a good base to start with, if that makes sense.

Eric: Right, yeah.

Jacob: I would add to that too; sometimes we can comb through some of the long-tail in Pay-Per-Click and basically just see some insights that we didn't see before. For example, with a dentist, we've found that people are actually searching by insurance type, so we found those to be really fruitful keywords for us. A lot of times, just brand names, let's say you have Interior Designer or Interior Decorator, we find through Pay-Per-Click that they would search brand names. Each industry does have some long-tail out there that is easily discoverable through Pay-Per-Click, however, the business owner 9 times out of 10 can tell you those right off the bat.

Eric: Right. So it's more of interviewing a little bit too, rather than going right to the keyword tool.

Jacob: Right.

Organic Strategy vs Places

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Eric: So after you get into the keyword research and you look at the different things, obviously a big thing that you must deal with or that you have to deal with now is localization, specifically with maps. We get a lot of questions on ranking in maps, how that differs from ranking in the traditional search, if in some cases you can even tell the difference anymore. So what would you say the key differences are between the two when you're looking at your organic campaign versus your maps campaign?

Adam: Right, and I'd like to preface this; we do have national clients, we have several of them, and we do have some real life examples as to the differences between the two. But with the maps, there's far more variations that you have to deal with. Organically, you can link build and assuming that you did it right, you can see a steady increase in results. But with the maps, you've got to worry road citations, dealing with Google's terms of service when optimizing your proximity results.

So recently Google was showing maybe just a downtown of a city versus entire cities, so let's say you have an attorney that was just outside the downtown radius, they wouldn't show up anymore, so how do you deal with that? And again, there's no manual. Google doesn't say that, "Hey, we've just come out and changed these." You'll just wake up one day and the maps listings will be completely different.

And so the main difference really is the ongoing management of your citations, and you've just got to try to watch it and watch it and watch it and when something changes, hope that you really already understand it. If not, then you've really got to network or just do a ton of research, get on the Google Places forums and really try to figure out what's going on and see if you can make some sort of effect.

If Google goes to, let's say, a blended pack versus a seven pack, everything really changes and so then you attack that differently. Again, it's just a little bit more difficult to manage because of all the different variations you're now dealing with. There's not as much data out there as to how to handle these variations, so if Google were to change things, at any minute... We just saw them change a bunch of things in the last two weeks, and nobody saw it coming. It's just trying to kind of be a little reactive to it and try to make heads and tails of it so you can effectively get your clients to rank within those.

Jacob: I want to add too, one thing we've found is if there is confusion with your name, address, phone number, any confusion whatsoever, really, it's going to act as a complete weight on your listing and traffic, long-tail and maps traffic. So the number one thing is to get all of your data exactly the same across the board, otherwise, you're going to be completely held down.

Call Tracking Recommendations (Or Not?)

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Eric: Yeah, we do see that a lot, especially with people who are trying to do campaigns with different phone number tracking, where they put different phone numbers in yellow and all these different places. Do you have anything? Do you use a specific type of call tracking application?

Adam: No, we completely recommend against it, absolutely 100% against it. Any time you have any variations with your map, your name, your phone number, like Jake said, you're going to weigh down your citations, weigh down your listing, weigh down your trust with Google and that's been a big thing. We've seen, even without any other sort of off page efforts, just by cleaning up your citations across the web, we've seen a significant increase in rankings, many, many times because of that.

Every now and again, you come across, say, a seven pack with dentists, you see one that maybe doesn't have a website, in a very competitive market. Typically, it's because his citations are so dialed in, he's been in one place for 30 years and the only data out there is exactly the same, so there's a lot of trust with the map. The same kind of rules apply. We completely recommend that you never use a tracking number, and if you have to use one on your site, you put it in the form of an image file, and we'll even go as far as to make the all tag on it their actual phone number. There's just no room for any confusion at all.

Eric: Right, yeah, you must run into that if you do PPC campaigns and stuff; on landing pages with different numbers and such

Adam: Right.

Jacob: Yeah, the service we've used is Ifbyphone, and it seems to work really well.

Eric: Yep.

Jacob: But truth be told, it was such a headache that it was not worth it.

Eric: Yeah, the traffic segments sometimes don't make a lot of sense to even start segmenting it out by phone number. You're just looking to try to get as many leads as you can and the campaigns aren't that much different. You should be able to tell where stuff is coming from in your Analytics, different goals, and things like that.

Jacob: Also, I would mention too that if you don't use a tracking number, it incentivizes you as an agency and as their partner to really keep good communication up with them. We're constantly calling our customers and asking them how their phone calls are doing, but it's kind of a forced way to keep communication.

Rank Checking Recommendations

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Eric: Yeah, clients do like that, that's for sure. Speaking of, you were talking about keeping up on maps and changes and things like that, what type of rank tracking applications do you use to check your organic rankings in conjunction with map inserts and things like that?

Jacob: Yeah, so that's a really good question and there hasn't been a ton of really good tools up to date, so we've tried almost everything. However, we haven't tried this one yet, but apparently Linda at Catalyst Marketing has come up with a tool called Places Scout, which we're hearing really good things about.

But we actually track everything at this point manually, so we have an employee go in and change your location to whatever location the city is in and literally manually check it. It actually works really, really well for us because we're able to get a good idea of what the map looks like and make changes. Nothing replaces the human eye, so we do about four to five keywords per client and keep track that way. On the other hand, we keep track of very long-tail keywords through Advanced Web Ranking.

Eric: Okay, yeah, that's a really popular app here at SEO Book. I know that sometimes too I've noticed between using Advanced Web Ranking, but more so I use Raven Tools, but when they have the blended results, those actually show up. I don't know if they can change the coding of the serves, or how they're doing it, but when it goes blended, it actually shows as an organic ranking in a rank tracker, rather than if it's a map insert.

So you're right, you're almost better off having someone hand check it, because you don't know what you're looking at. Is this number two ranking a blended map insert or is it an organic ranking or am I ranking number two but there's a ten pack right above me and I don't know it?

Jacob: Right.

Adam: Exactly.

Eric: All right, we'll link to that tool in the summary here. I'll have to check that out. I hadn't heard of that one yet.

Adam: The Places Scout actually, I have played personally with it and it seems to work pretty well. We do have some of our team testing it at this point, to make sure that it works to what we need it to, but it definitely does allow us to track blended versus seven pack versus other variations to a good degree. So we're not 100% with it yet, but we're working towards it. If it can pan out, then we'll certainly bring it on board.

Taking Over a Local Campaign, What Usually is Missing

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Eric: Great, that's a great tip. When you take on a client, what are the two or three processes that you see which are often most neglected inside of a local SEO campaign?

Jacob: Yeah, so taking on a client and onboarding them is actually interesting. I would say first off, not many small businesses out there right now are hiring folks to do a traditional campaign or to actually handle it day to day, so in that case you just have the business owner or somebody in marketing that's trying to handle it, kind of a do-it-yourself. In those situations, almost everything is neglected, which is good for a company like us, because we can come in and clean things up pretty quickly. So that's the first thing, is you don't really see those situations where there is a lot running.

The biggest thing is definitely incorrect citations and incorrect data, for sure. So that would be a matter of going to the data sources, Axiom, Localeze, InfoUSA and getting that data correct. And then I would say, in my opinion, one of the biggest pieces that is neglected is the actual website being set up to convert. That means a big phone number, a big call to action, a big contact form everywhere on the site. We don't really see a ton of clients paying attention to that and we've found by just implementing that change they'll see a media increase in leads coming in.

Eric: Awesome, yeah you're right. When I do searches, it's hard enough to find a local business that even has a website sometimes, right? And then you run into that issue too, where you get on the site and you don't really know what to do; it's hard to find contact information, etc. Those are good points.

Jacob: I would also add too, Eric, a lot of the technical stuff is improperly managed. A lot of times there's no webmaster tools, there's no KML site maps, there's no site map at all, rich snippets, geomodifiers in the title tags, all of that from A to Z is usually neglected.

And then one last thing; a lot of times people will try to take a shortcut, whether that be a bulk submission to UBL.org or something like that, and that may work sometimes, but oftentimes it just takes a very manual contacting of every one of these directories, which we see business owners just don't have time to take care of.

Eric: All right, you're right. A lot of people do just do those mass submissions and then just sort of let it go and they don't really follow up on it, like you said, there's a lot of value in having correct data all over the place and you can't really substitute quality, hand-crafted work with the bulk stuff.

Adam: Right.

Duplicate Content Concerns, Same Services in Different Locations

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Eric: And you're right, they certainly don't have time to do that. Another question that we get pretty often is how you deal with potential duplicate content issues, when you're dealing with say, a dentist who serves four or five different towns. Do you get into multiple sites type thing, multiple pages, how do you handle that?

Adam: Well, typically most small businesses don't have the budget for multiple websites to be placed for areas that are... Say you're in a metropolitan area that has several sub-areas that you operate in; it really kind of comes down to if you actually have a business address in these other locations or not, if you operate in or around those areas. So that's really going to determine how we go after that.

And what I mean is if you service people in a large geographical area, you can't necessarily get a Google Places listing in that area unless you have an address. So in that case, all we can do is to try to get your site to rank organically, but we typically can't get you to show up in the Google map because again, you don't have an address there.

So what we'll try to do is if the areas are very close in proximity, we'll merge those into one page of content on your site, depending on what it is. If it's a sub-section, let's say, if you're a dentist, and you offer IV sedation, then we might put up a URL that says IV sedation in Town A and Town Z or whatever it is.

However, if it's really a little bit further spaced out or if you really need to differentiate it because of competition or whatever, we may actually build out Town X dentistry and Town Y dentistry, so they're two separate pages on the site and then we attack that. And typically, in that case, that dentist only still has that one address so we'll keep that consistent across the board. But when we build, we'll try to incorporate those key words to the appropriate sub-pages so we can get those to rank appropriately. Typically, that doesn't have any effect on your map listing for the outside area, the other city that they don't exist in.

Then when you get to the copy, we try to mention all the cities that they serve, and work all of your keywords to make sure that all your geomodifiers are consistent for all the areas that you service, as long as it makes sense. If they're serving national areas, then obviously, that wouldn't work. You'd have to create a bunch of sub-sites, microsites, and approach that differently.

Marketing Local SEO Services & Client Acquisition Tips

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Eric: All right, great. I think that covers a lot of the questions that we have on campaign stuff. A lot of the second part here is that we do get a lot of questions on the business side of things. People want to start building a local SEO business and then sort of grow it out from there to where people usually have most of their personal contacts and it's a great way to get started. Certainly, Google is pushing local all over the place, so it's definitely not a bad place to be.

I think the first question that we would like to ask on that is how do you go about marketing your services and picking up new customers?

Jacob: So yeah, this is the question we get all the time. It's like the Holy Grail question, right?

Eric: Yep.

Jacob: So the small business, or the SMB market, the way I see it is it's notoriously hard to penetrate. If you have a busy attorney, they're not typically on their phone calling out, asking for help for these things, right? So there's two ways to get to them.

One is kind of the traditional way, which is to cold call them, and that's very, very difficult. However, there have been many companies that are successful doing that, who reach the locals and the yodels of the world are scaling out pretty wide, doing that type of sales. You can maybe pull up the old Yellowpages and see who's got the biggest ads; those folks are typically spending the most money, so they'd be a good place to start.

However, we don't do that, because that's kind of the shotgun approach. For a smaller agency, we find more success with the rifle approach, which would be personal relationships, networking, establishing yourself in the different communities as an authority.

One way to do that is to identify these connectors in this industry. Who are in these businesses' offices every day? So if you want to target attorneys, who are in their offices every day? If you want to target restaurants, who are talking to these guys? A lot of times that will be a secret, golden source are actually Yellowpage reps or old Yellowpage reps, because those guys and gals have relationships with so many business owners, I mean very, very personal relationships.

The same thing with radio reps, radio ad reps, TV reps, even to the point, let's say, dental insurance, or a lot of these dentists will have people coming in selling them software. Those individuals have contacts with all the dentists in the entire city, so if you can get your hands on those folks, the connectors in the small business world, they will no doubt have people you can talk to.

Eric: Right, and you can also do things like speaking, being active in the business community. Most Small Business communities have a Chamber of Commerce and things like that. If you do speaking engagements there locally, presentations, stuff like that.

Jacob: Absolutely, stuff like that is probably the second biggest way. So personal contacts, and then speaking at a Chamber. Business owners are thirsting for this information, so most Chambers... And another good one, better than Chambers, are actual industry specific organizations, because you can go and speak to all the storage facility owners in your city, if you can get a hold of the organization that you're in.

Eric: All right. So now, we've got all these customers with all those great tips.

Jacob: The phone's ringing off the hook.

Starting a New Local Business & Key Mistakes to Avoid

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Eric: Yeah, the phone's off the hook, papers are flying everywhere... What do you see for new folks getting into this, as they're building up a client base, what do you see as the biggest struggle for them?

Adam: Okay, so the first thing is not cutting corners. It's so easy to take the path of least resistance, but when you do then your results falter, if you will. So the big thing is that you've got to stay diligent, doing what works and doing it 100% of the time and just being really consistent with it, all across the board. And then building scalable systems; it's difficult, but it can be done and it's something that you certainly want to focus on is how can you put practices into place to keep yourself organized, but also be able to replicate those systems across 10, 20, 50, 100 clients so that everything gets done the right way every time and nothing falls through the cracks.

And then the last big thing that is huge is finding a way to justify yourself when compared to 50 other people who claim to do what you do. These business owners have people beating on their door all the time, so what is it that makes you any better than the rest of them. Coming up with that is something that can be a little difficult, but once you find it, now you have a reason to talk to them that really sets you apart.

Jacob: To add on that, communication with these guys is really, really big. These business owners are so used to...they've been ripped off a lot in their past by companies calling them from all over the country, promising them the next best thing. But if you can position yourself as their partner and keep constant communication going with them, and somehow scale your business out at the same time, which is the whole conundrum, that will do wonders for client retention and the business owner will hire you.

For us, for example, we have contracts, but our contracts end, and at that point, it's the business owner's decision to keep on going with us. So we want to create a really high touch environment, where we're contacting them all the time and that leads to a very, very high retention rate.

Adam: Another item that I would add is crucial for someone getting into this is really try to understand how local works, not just local SEO, but the local market. We don't know it all; we just try to pay really close attention. If we read and test, we're always trying to learn what's going on and we spend a lot of time, for instance, in the Google Places forums, helping and learning, constantly providing insights anywhere we can, and getting feedback from it.

There's no industry guide put out by Google, so you have to either find someone who can help show you the way (which really doesn't exist in this area; very few people do it and are willing to share it) or you have to make your own path and figure it out as you go. The latter takes time, but it can work as long as you're diligent.

Like Jake said, these business owners get beat on by hundreds of calls all the time; they're just inundated with it, with emails and other solicitations, so you can't be one of those guys that let's say uses tools that email blast them or just constantly are banging on their door with the same things that everybody else is saying. There really are no shortcuts and these guys just start to turn it off because now we're just looked at as another solicitation phone call, if you will.

Taking that on to the next step, not all businesses are right for local and internet marketing, so you have to be able to prove your worth and justify your value and that's very difficult to do with businesses that don't focus on services where clients call them or email them. So for an example, it's extremely different to show a direct investment with a restaurant; how are you going to effectively track results? If they say, "Well, what did you do for me?" what can you prove to them other than, "Hey, we increased the traffic to your website"? How can you show that they actually got any business from it, because nobody's answering their phone, they just get foot traffic. Some restaurants, of course, may take reservations or get some calls, but again, it's very difficult to track.

The next thing would be to find your niche and stick to it. Many companies try to do too much and spread themselves thin, so if you do one thing and you do it well, people will pay for it, and if you do many things mediocre, your term rate will increase and your results won't provide a good return on investment.

The next thing I would say is to charge what you're worth. Don't think that businesses can't afford what you're doing. If you provide value and if your return on investment is very good, then you're going to be worth quite a bit of money. You look at industries' stats, an average client worth for a dentist could be anywhere from a $1,000 to $1,500. One dentist of ours, his average client worth is $1,434, I believe that is what he just told us. Every client we send him is worth that amount. You can take that into consideration when you're charging what you do; as long as it's fair, then people will pay it.

Budget Myths

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Jacob: I was going to say, interesting story there, about not really believing the business owners when they tell you they don't have money, because they will, if it brings them business; any smart person would.

We had a client that was a prospect at the time, and never spent more than $300 for advertising a month, which was small for the guy. He was spending $40 a month on his website and thought that was too much, but come to find out, his website was a complete duplicate of thousands of other websites, so he was completely de-indexed and had never gotten one lead from the internet. So we went in and quoted him a couple thousand a month, because that was what it was going to take. We showed him exactly how he was going to get a positive ROI on that. Again, he's never spent more than $300 or $400 a month and sure as heck, he went with it, and he's very, very happy, still a client. So, again, don't be afraid to charge what you're worth.

Eric: Yeah, I think a great point you made (though there were obviously a lot in that), but I think one of the biggest ones is the niche approach. You find certain people, like I know an agency that does work specifically with lawyers, and they do a great job, because they're used to dealing with... If you're somebody who deals with, say, insurance agents all day, and then all of a sudden you take on a lawyer client who's a bulldog, you're going to be like..oh no

Jacob: Right.

SEO & Non-SEO Tools the Help with Scaling

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Eric: It's completely different. And I see that a lot. Some people work just with real estate agents or insurance agents or dentists or things like that, so that's a great point. I think that when we talk about scaling, obviously, and things like that, tools come into play. Everybody likes to talk about tools, right? Everybody wants to know what tools everybody uses. Funny thing is, the best ones are usually ones that are developed in house, and no one ever talks about them.

Jacob: Right.

Eric: So what type of tools do you guys use to help scale your business and keep communication flowing and all that?

Jacob: Yeah, I mean one of the tools we'll use is... The number one tool that we use is Basecamp; I can't say enough about Basecamp. We also use Raven Tools for reporting, which works really, really well. Then internally, we use Google Apps, Google Docs for internal communications and then we also, actually, another one...

We get every client to sign up for Dropbox. We have them transport files and pictures to use through Dropbox because their website has to have pictures of the proprietary, of their buildings, of their office, their products; so we use Dropbox for that. And we also train our clients to use Jing, a screenshot program, so we communicate with them through that.

A couple other ones we just started using... A software we just started using is called ProofHQ, for proofing, so that allows our designer to show us proofs and us to comment on it really easily. We use FreshBooks for billing, and it's very, very easy. We use SalesForce.com for all CRM; we use that to manage our email list.

And then finally, for sales calls, it's important to kind of go out there with information, so if you're going out to see a vet, for example, you want to run his website through maybe Website Grader. We'll use SpyFu, we'll use SEO Screaming Spider to run the website and find any 404 errors and kind of show them, "Hey, look, you have these errors holding you down. Customers are going to these pages and there's nothing on them." Then we'll use Google's keyword tool and Open Site Explorer, to show them why they're not ranking, why their competitors are ranking number one. So those are the tools that we use from day to day.

Eric: Awesome. So will you join me in the call for Basecamp to integrate Google Docs at some point in the next 10 years?

Jacob: Yeah. I just read an article that they're coming out with a complete revamped version very soon that hopefully will include that.

Eric: Yeah, it's funny. I know a lot of people who end up doing their own internal project management app, there's usually a very large group that does that, but Basecamp is, I think of all the pre-built solutions, the best of the bunch. There's just little things, like the Google Docs integration, and the fact that if I was your employee, you go to the Dashboard and you can't see all my to-do's the way that you can see yours.

Jacob: Yes.

Eric: So it's just these little things that I hope they change with Basecamp next, because if they do, they've got like 90%.

Jacob: Seriously. It's great; this ProofHQ, the reason we chose that is because it does actually integrate in with Basecamp very well.

What are Business Owners Looking For in a Company or Campaign?

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Eric: Awesome. I should check that out. I think I was using Notable for a while, which is similar. So a couple more questions here on the business development side of things and then we'll let you get back to developing your business, as it were. When you meet with your local clients, what are they typically after? What do they ask, what are they expecting? How do you manage all that?

Adam: I would say that business owners really care about a few things in marketing. The biggest thing, and most notably, is getting their phone to ring. Really, that will just lead to traffic through their door as long as they're answering their phone, and they've got a decent system in place to get those clients engaged, and whatnot, which will then lead to a positive return on investment. At the end of the day, it's all about the return on investment to them, so it all starts with the phone call or email lead to their business. Without that, nothing else really matters. So that's really got to be your focus, because that's their focus.

I'd say that they kind of want you to be genuine and not just trying to push another product that again, everybody else has. One of the best ways to convey this is show them some live examples of real clients, if you have them in your existing area that they can relate to. Show them some positive testimonials of real, live, local businesses that are happy with your services.

The burn and churn type companies out there, the ones that are notorious for people disliking their high churn rates, you're not going to have a lot of this, and they're certainly not going to have a good amount of clients, in most cases, that someone out there can just pick up the phone and say, "Hey, what were your experiences with this company and should I do business with them?"

So, those are all really important, but the most important is getting their phone to ring, because that's really what they care about at the end of the day. If you do that, then a lot of other things just go away. They don't really care as much about the other nitty-gritty things as long as the phone's ringing.

Pricing, Pricing, Pricing

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Eric: Right. So a couple of the big, big questions that we always get... Pricing; we'll talk about this in a bit, but people talk about the scaling of a local service firm and things like that. Some people think that it's not possible; I disagree a little bit on that one; I'm sure you guys do too. But when you get into pricing, how do you price things? Do you do flat fees, per leads, a combination, or do you have a set structure for pretty much everything you do?

Adam: That's actually a great question. So we actually model our billing and our fees kind of off the Yellowpages. As businesses are pulling out of the Yellowpages, we want to be there to scoop up that money, because there's literally on a national scale, billions of dollars every year that is just leaving small business pocketbooks to go elsewhere.

The way the Yellowpages work is that they deal in monthly contracts, and that's exactly what we do. We'll schedule out typically anywhere from 9-12 month contracts; the Yellowpages has notoriously been a 12 month contract, and sometimes even more if they're integrating in digital products, depending on the cycle of when the book hits the streets to the end of the publication cycle.

So there are a couple reasons we want to contract. Initially, we didn't want to contract, but we've found that it's good because it gives us time; it forces the client to have to wait for an SEO to take place. We all know that there's no overnight, you know you start doing some off-page SEO work and next week you hit number one and your phone is just blowing up. So we need clients and we try to set the correct expectation and we also try to get a good contract term and then we know that we're somewhat safe with them and whatnot.

If they can make it through the time needed to let the SEO work take its place, and there's sufficient time, then that's not only going to allow them to see the return on investment, but if they start to be comfortable spending that money and then once the return hits, then the money's not even an issue and so it really works well.

Monthly contracts are absolutely where it's at. If you go on out and try to beat the streets every time you want to make a new sale, it just doesn't make sense and I'll tell you, most of our clients, they've started with a contract, and many, a high percentage of them, are now out of contract and they keep us on a month to month, without issues. I mean, there's not even a question of it anymore.

Jacob: So I would say, the paper lead for us hasn't been a good way to go, because they're only going to attribute a certain amount of leads that you brought them. But you're going to bring so much more business, whether it be word of mouth, whether it be just an article that you may have put out; all these other things that really you did, they're not going to attribute that to you, so we haven't found that very good.

The key is, find out what their marketing budget is per month and try to come in somewhere in there. Also, no big upfront fees. Most of these business owners, for us at least, we don't try to hit them. Their budgeting is not structured in a way that they can take a big hit. So let's say you were going to charge them $10,000 for a website or whatever, it's tough for them to swallow that. However, if you can get them into a 12 month contract or a 9 month agreement, they're more apt to sign that.

Eric: Right, so sort of rolling, if you're doing a website, things like that, roll that into your monthly costs over that 12 month period, rather than saying, "Oh, it's going to be $8,000 for this or $5,000 for this website, plus another 2, 3 grand, whatever it is a month for everything else on top of that."

Adam: I would say that that's absolutely correct. But if you can get away from doing the website separately and then just allocating funds to a monthly SEO, that's great. The one thing I wanted to point out is there's no one-size-fits-all. You can't cookie-cutter internet marketing, and so we see many companies who say, "We're going to charge this amount for this product and it's just going to work for everyone." It's not that case with anybody.

You walk in, you sit down with a client, and they're all after something different, they've all got different needs and wants, they all have different timelines, they all have a different budget amount that they're willing to spend. There are just so many things; you can look at somebody's citation profile and see that it's really clean, versus someone who's hired three or four knockoff SEO companies that just haven't, just have really made a mess of things. So that's all going to change as far as what you need to charge.

That goes back to our initial statement on charging what you're worth and just holding to your guns. Hopefully you can help the client make heads or tails of it so that it makes sense and so that it works. But there's never one-size-fits-all, so usually, most of the time we're customizing our proposals to some degree.

Eric: Well right, yeah, exactly. Quite frankly, sometimes you might want to... You may sit down with a client who gives you a much better feeling than another one, where you may be a little more apt to say, "Yeah, we can maybe roll that in," or whatever, versus a client who you think may take up a little more of your time and you want to be able to price for that accordingly.

Jacob: Right, and also think about ROI; so, for example, the example I gave earlier, where that client had not spent more than $300 a month, and we came in at $2,000 a month, well that's because we knew how much traffic we could get, we knew roughly how many leads we could get for him, and we knew that he was going to get an astronomical return on investment with that. So it didn't matter to us how much he's used to spending; what mattered to us was how much money he was going to make.

Eric: Right, exactly, and it goes back earlier, as you were talking about the fact that sometimes local marketing isn't for everybody and that's why I think it's important, like you said, not to take a cookie cutter approach. You could specialize in local SEO, but there's nothing to say that you can't just do a web design for a local coffee shop or help them with their social media. They may not need a full on SEO campaign.

So like you said, it's good to be open because it opens up other areas and then who knows who they know. They may know other businesses that might value... You're right, so the networking approach, the custom proposal approach and having different services to offer I think is... You know, without going too wide, is certainly...

Adam: And that really kind of goes back to try to keep your niche service industries intact. You know, we do get queried every now and again for the one offs, and we try to refer those out, if it's not in our main scope. The last thing we want to do is take someone on that's either going to pull our resources and tie them to somebody else that really needs it, or you know we're not going to be able to provide sufficient results for their money, which would then kind of put a bad taste in someone's mouth. That never works out for anybody.

Favorite Local SEO Resources

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Eric: Right. In terms of keeping up with the local SEO stuff, like you said, things change all the time, what are some of your key sources for keeping up with local SEO stuff?

Adam: Sure, well, one of the main things is we try to stay really active in Google forums. We're constantly trying to be part of what's going on there, but I would say the other areas we're really involved with are Mike Blumenthal's blog; I communicate with Mike every now and again for various different things that I have questions on. Linda Buquet, she's got a great site. She deals specifically with dentists and she usually has good insights on things that are coming up. David Mihm, of course, just kind of your industry standard. And then SEO Book kind of gives us a top down approach to a lot of things that are kind of going on as far as more of a large scale, what's going on in the industry, algorithm changes, what people are seeing.

At the end of the day, tracking our own results. We try different things out; we try to document it, see what happens, see what works. Sometimes we'll just make changes to see what will happen and what the income will be. We've learned a lot, as far as how to manipulate Google Places to our advantage. Those are some things that have been really neat that we've come across.

The thing is that there is very little out there on local SEO from those who are actually doing it, so the ones that really share the information are really important to us. But most don't share their secrets. Even those guys probably don't share a lot of their secrets. So it's one of those things, so you've got to pave your own path, but the coming months we hope to put out some information, including a book that we'll use to try to share some secrets that we have and maybe give back to the community that's helped us out so much.

Eric: Awesome.

Jacob: I've got my RSS feed open and I'm just reading through what we check every day. Blumenthal, Greg Sterling, Small Business SEM by Matt McGee, David Mihm, OptiLocal is really good, Catalyst Marketing, NGS Marketing, Andrew Shotland, BIA/Kelsey Local is really, really good. They started in the Yellowpages industry and they do a lot of reporting on the small business world. The Google Places help forum, and then finally, a blog called GrowMap does some really great stuff.

Debunking the "Local Marketing" is Unscalable Argument

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Eric: Great. We'll also link to all that stuff in the post here. Just one final question; there's talk sometimes of the fact that (we talked about it a little, some of the key components), that there was a post recently out there that sort of shot down the whole local client type setup where people want $50,000 a month services, but they're only paying $1,000 a month. I find that this is the case for some clients, but I think if you guys maybe can just briefly talk about the evolution of your business...

It seems like you would start as you get into business and maybe you take on a couple clients at a lower rate than you would like; then you sort of prove yourself and from there you grow into other services that you can provide. From that point you just keep expanding within your niche, to find other businesses, both locally and across the country. But I think it's not so much that it's an unscalable business model; I think it's just people try to go into it thinking that every client you sit down with is just going to hand you over a pile of cash without any qualifications.

Adam: Right, which wouldn't be ideal, right?

Eric: Yeah, which is probably what some people might be used to, as least back when nobody knew what SEO was. "Yeah, I'll point 20 spamming links at your site and you'll be number one and whatever." Yeah, give me... You know, I think it's, especially with the local businesses, in this economy, they're the ones that are really hit harder. We have a number of local businesses here that have been hit by the movement in of larger retail stores; a local hardware store, a local insurance agent who now is competing against the local State Farm and local Geico office, stuff like that.

But if you guys could just maybe debunk that theory a little bit, in terms of it being an unscalable business model.

Adam: I would say initially that as long as you can prove your value, you can really charge what you're worth. When we started out, we just tried to show our clients what we knew, what we were capable of, and found some that we actually knew and just went from there. Once we had a foundation of some proven results...

There's two elements. You've got to prove to the client that you can do it, but you've also go to prove to yourself too. Once we did that, we knew that we were on the right track, and it was a lot easier to go after other clients, to say, "Hey, here's a real life example of what we've done with one person or another person and here's our plan as to what we could do with your company. Here's what sets us apart. Here's a testimonial from a customer in your industry and so on." So there's just a bunch to that.

Jacob: I would add to that, there are companies out there trying to scale this out, right, to reach local and yodel and those type of things, and we both had vast experience working closely with these type of companies. I would say it's a spectrum, right? You can have high scalability and high automation, but you're also going to have a very low retention rate. And then you can have very low automation, very manual, and then have a higher retention rate.

So I would say, it's scalable, but it's scalable in the way that an agency is scalable. We look at it as pods. So a pod of employees, say a project manager, a couple citation builders, maybe a designer, can handle x amount of clients in x amount of revenue. Once you get that pod, you just duplicate that pod and scale out, very, very similar to what an agency would be. Then, the best thing about that is you're keeping your retention rate very, very high.

Eric: Right, it goes back to talking about the systems that you were talking about earlier, having a system in place. You don't necessarily have to have the upfront cookie cutter approach in terms of pricing, but on the back end, you really ought to have a scalable system that works as flawlessly as it can with human involvement.

Jacob: Right.

Eric: All right, great. Well, I think we covered a lot of stuff here. I just want to wrap it up here. Again, these guys are from firegang.com, like I said, very active and respected members of the SEO Book community, as you can tell by a lot of the information here, definitely on the expert level of the local SEO stuff. I know on your site now you have a downloadable guide on how to increase map rankings, and that's free. And then you also mentioned that you're coming out with a book in a couple months that covers pretty much the whole local SEO spectrum?

Jacob: Exactly.

Eric: All right, great. Well, let us know when that comes out. We'll certainly highlight that on the blog so everyone here can get a copy of that. I just want to take a brief moment and thank you guys for hopping on here. It's been an hour long call, so I hope everybody has their iPods ready, or whatever they use to listen to this.

Jacob: Two time speed, right?

Eric: Right. All right, guys. Thank you very much for your time.

Adam: Appreciate it.

Jacob: Thanks. Bye.

List of Resources

Back to Topics

Informational Resources:

AHREFS Review: An In-Depth Look at a New Link Research Tool

Feb 1st

Ahrefs is the newest entry into the link research tool space. They use their own bot and their own index (which they state is based on information from a trillion website connections).

They claim their index is updated every 30 minutes and the fresh data is available to their users within 30 minutes of the actual index refresh.

Ahrefs also has a ranking database of roughly 45 million keywords from 9 different countries (US GB FR RU DE ES IT AU BR). The tools within their membership are:

  • Site Explorer
  • SERPs Analysis
  • Reports
  • Labs/Tools

Their pricing is very straight-forward and only increases or decreases based on volume of data you have access to. You can check out the easy to understand pricing on their pricing page (and they offer SEO Book readers a 50% discount on the first month).

Site Explorer

Ahref's Site Explorer functions in a similar way to Majestic's Site Explorer and SeoMoz's Site Explorer. You can choose a specific URL, the domain without subdomains, or domain with all its subdomains:

ahrefs-site-explorer

If we look at the Site Explorer results, you'll see an overview of the last 45 days or so from Ahref's crawl history:

ahrefs-site-explorer-overview

On the left you can see some interesting stats like the total number of backlinks, different referring IP's and subnets (class c blocks and such), unique domains, and the types of backlinks the site has (text, image, redirects, and so on).

In addition to the overview report, you have other research options to chose from:

  • New Links
  • Lost Links (great opportunity for you to swoop in and alert the linker + sell them on linking to you and your resources)
  • Anchor Text Profile
  • Pages Crawled on the Site
  • Referring Domain Breakdown
  • SERP Positions (organic ranking report)
  • Raw Export of the Data (up to your limits based on your pricing plan)

New Links

In the New Link tab you can go back to a previous month, or work inside the current month, and find newly discovered links by the day. Here is what that looks like:

site-explorer-new-links

Click on whatever day you want and you'll get a list of linking urls, the target link page, and the anchor text used for the link:

site-explorer-new-links-results

This report can help you reverse engineer, down to the day, a link building campaign that your competitor is running (always good to be out in front of a big link push by a competitor) and can also help you evaluate your own link campaign or even help you spot a link growth issue that may have resulted in some kind of penalty or over-optimization filter.

Now keep in mind that, based on their stated crawling guidelines, the stronger links from stronger sites tend to get crawled more frequently so the spammiest of the spammy link approaches might not get picked up on. For that level of deep research a historical report from Majestic SEO and a link status checker, like Advanced Link Manager, is likely a better bet.

You can export this report to Excel or .CSV format.

Lost Links

The Lost Links tab has the same interface as the New Links report does. For your own domain you might want to consider tracking your own links in something like Raven or Buzzstream but this tool does report dropped links down to the day. Combine that with their crawling preferences (better links = quicker attention) and you can spot drops of substance quickly.

You can use this report to find links that a competitor has lost, off of which you can contact the webmaster and see if you can't promote your site or similar content to earn the link your competitor was previously getting.

You can export this report to Excel or .CSV format.

Anchor Text

The anchor text report is exactly what you expect it to be. It lists the anchor texts of external links, the number of occurrences, as well as an expandable dropdown menu to see the pages being linked from and the pages being linked to on the site you are researching.

site-explorer-anchor-text-report

You can export to Excel or .CSV and choose to export everything, up to your limit, or just the current page.

Crawled Pages

This report will show you all the pages crawled by Ahrefs with the following stats:

  • Page URL and Title
  • Crawl Date
  • Page Size
  • Internal Links
  • External Links

site-explorer-crawled-pages

I would likely use this report (on competitors) for checking some of their more popular internally linked-to pages as well as checking out how they structure their site. You can also jump right to a site explorer report for any of the URL's listed on that report as well as check the SERP positions for any of them.

Referring Domains

One thing I like about Ahrefs is that it's straight and to the point. It's very easy to get in, get your data, and get out. Each report does pretty much what you expect it to. This report shows the referring domains + number links coming from that domain. You can access the links from each domain by clicking the Expand button next to the referring domain:

ahrefs-referring-domains

SERP Positioning

Similar to SemRush, Ahref's provides estimated ranking data for keyword sets on both Google and Bing/Yahoo in multiple countries (US, UK, AU, DE, FR, ES, IT, BR, RU). The tool shows the:

  • Position
  • Keyword
  • CPC
  • Estimated cost
  • Ranking url
  • Global search volume
  • Advertiser competition
  • Last date checked
  • Rating (estimated visitors per month based on assumed traffic distribution)

site-explorer-ahrefs-serp-history

The other cool thing about this report is that it will tell you the change from the last time they checked the ranking.

SERPs Analysis

This is similar to the SERP positioning report. Essentially, you enter a URL and you get the Google + Bing & Yahoo ranking data with those same metrics as stated above:

  • Position
  • Keyword
  • CPC
  • Estimated cost
  • Ranking url
  • Global search volume
  • Advertiser competition
  • Last date checked
  • Rating (estimated visitors per month based on assumed traffic distribution)

In addition to that, you also have the following reports:

  • Daily Stats
  • History of Changes
  • Ads Analysis

Daily Stats

ahrefs-daily-stats

This report shows you, on a daily basis, the following data points:

  • New Keywords
  • Lost Keywords
  • Total Keywords that moved up
  • Total Keywords that moved down
  • Total Positions up
  • Total Positions down
  • Rating Change (estimated percentage of traffic gained or lost)
  • Cost Change (rating change * CPC)

There are graphical charts for:

  • Search Engine Traffic (shown above)
  • Keyword Trend (total keywords ranking)
  • Traffic Cost
  • Bar Graph for New and Lost Keywords
  • Estimated Traffic Changes
  • Estimated Traffic Cost Changes

History of Changes

This report breaks down the keyword changes by day and how much the specific keyword moved up/down (and the corresponding page that is ranking).

You can look at a daily report, a 7 day report, 30 days, or a custom range.

ahrefs-history-changes

Ads Analysis

Ahrefs also incorporates Google (and Bing/Yahoo but I had a hard time getting figures for Bing/Yahoo) PPC data. You can pull in the ranking of the ad, the ad text, volume & CPC data, as well as last updated date & competition levels.

ahrefs-ad-history

You can look at just the keyword/ranking data or choose from their other 2 reports; keywords/ranking + ad text (Table + Ads) or just the PPC ad text itself (Ads Preview).

Reports

You can create reports for your own domain for free or a any other site as a part of your subscription. Each domain counts as a separate report, so you can enter as many as you are entitled to in this interface but they do count against your monthly allowance.

ahrefs-reporting-1

The report overview looks like this:

ahrefs-report-overview

Each tab represents a data point you can review. In any tab you can choose to export the visible page or the entire report.

There are quite a few filtering options here, as you can see below:

ahrefs-filtering

Your filtering options, report-wide, are:

  • URLs from - you can include or exclude based on user-defined data (exclude by word(s), domain extension, and so on)
  • Backlinks Type - you can choose to show, specifically, different backlink types (nofollow, image, frame, redirect, form, deleted)
  • Pages - show links only to a specific page
  • Subdomain - show links only to a specific subdomain
  • Countries - show links from specific countries
  • Anchors - show or exclude specific anchor text links
  • Referring Domains - show links from a specific domain, or set of domains only
  • IP - show links from a specific IP or range of IP's only
  • Subnets - show backlinks only from specific subnets
  • TLD - show links from specific TLD's only
  • Date - show links based on specific crawl period

The cool thing here is that you can layer on the filters as you wish. The following screenshot shows all filters selected and available:

ahrefs-report-filtering

The reporting is really quite powerful and provides numerous ways to quickly filter out junk links so you can focus on the good stuff.

Labs

There are 3 additional tools in their Labs section.

  • Ahrefs Top - Top 1 million domains by number of backlinks, completely searchable
  • Domain Comparison - compare up to 5 domains for different link metrics (see below)
  • Batch Domains - (see below) dump in a bunch of URLs and get a total count of backlinks, referring domains, and IP's. Unsure of the limit here but I did about 25 with no problem.

Here is a screenshot of the domain comparison feature:

ahrefs-compare-top

ahrefs-report-2

The Batch Domains feature looks like this (and is completely exportable!):

ahrefs-compare-domains-batch

Ahrefs is Worth a Spin

I was impressed with the speed of this tool, the exportability of the data, and the report filtering capabilities. It hardly hurts to have another link database to pull from, especially one that is updated every 30 minutes.

The tool is quite easy to use and it does pretty much what you expect it to. If you are into link research you should give this tool a try. The database appears to be a fairly good size for a new database and the ability to slice and dice that data from right within the web interface is a solid feature. If you do try it out, let us know what you think! We are also adding their link data to SEO for Firefox & the SEO Toolbar today.

The Future of SEO Campaigns with Jon Henshaw & Taylor Pratt from Raven

Jan 26th
posted in

Raven SEO Interview.

Here is the audio if you'd prefer to listen :)

Play File (mp3 link)

Eric: All right, this is Eric over here at SEO Book and today I'm fortunate enough to be joined by Taylor Pratt and Jon Henshaw from Raven SEO Tools, thanks for joining us today guys.

Taylor Pratt: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, good to see ya!

Eric: All right, so we just have some questions here that I think our readers will appreciate and some of our members have been interested to know about as well.

So, without further ado I'll jump right in here.

Obviously you guys are essentially the creators of an all-in-one SEO tool set which has kind of morphed into a Web marketing tool set now with all of the different things that you've added and certainly have a vested interest in being on the right side of forecasting the future of what will be important to search marketers here in the short and long-term and certainly there's a lot of changes going on at the moment especially in the social area.

So, I'd just like to get your thoughts on where you guys see search going with respect to what's going to be important for us as search marketers to track, study and report on the clients; things like rankings, analytics, social signals?

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, I mean I think I'll go first. This is Jon and as you said we kind of started out with just SEO and over time we have become more of that full-fledged internet marketing suite. And I would say that that was actually one of the first steps in sort of forecasting where things are going in the industry.

And at first while that was like our main focus what we started to see was sort of the merging of all of these different practices under one roof and so you saw a lot of people who just did SEO's, a lot of people who just did paid and they started to do both. And then social kind of came into that mix, that's the most recent thing, and so now you're seeing a lot of agencies doing all three and on top of that they're doing email marketing and that type of thing and so that was sort of our first step in saying SEO is not going to be enough; what we think is going to happen is most of these companies doing these sort of individual components of marketing are going to be doing them all.

So then the second thing which is really what we're dealing with now is so where is it going now? What is it that people need and I would say we're just sticking to how we approached it all along which is we're basically talking to the people who are doing the work out there. We're talking to the agencies, the individuals, the experts and we're asking them, what are your problems? Like, what are the problems that are still not being solved even just on the most practical level?

And so we take that information and we look at what we built and we go, okay, so how can we solve that problem with Raven? And that contributes a whole lot to at least our own roadmap. Taylor might want to talk more about sort of the future of things.

Taylor Pratt:Yeah and building off of what Jon's saying, when it comes to figuring out what I should be studying or reporting on I think we're seeing, especially like Jon said with social getting more into search, people having to turn to pay-for-click to get more data, having to study all disciplines of online marketing you can't just make the right call just by looking at what you can see in your analytics from an SEO perspective.

And so I think what we're seeing with people are that they're realizing, hey, I could be doing a lot better if I don't just look at my own stuff. I want to see what keywords are performing at the highest level on the pay-per-click side. I want to see what our audience is talking about on our fan page and on our Twitter account so that I know what topics I should be writing about that's going to get the most engagement.

And so I think we're moving towards a full landscape of online marketing and services and it's forcing SEO's to try and become more knowledgeable in those others fields as well.

And, as a result, you know, that's really what we were trying to do with Raven which was bringing together all that data so that you can be looking at it easily. Maybe I don't actually have to do the work when it comes to pay-per-click but I need to understand it and I need to know what I can take from that to improve my own SEO campaign.

And so really when it comes to reporting and actually managing that process we need people to be a lot more versatile in their skills, they can't just be focused on one niche anymore.

Eric: Those are all great points. I think too you guys must run into stuff like I think you could probably take ten people who are knowledgeable or successful with SEO that have been doing it for a while and they probably get four or five different opinions on what exactly SEO is. Is it...does it stop at rankings or does it stop at, you know, rankings plus traffic plus conversions plus leveraging all of the other data that you talked about. So that must be quite at challenge because I'm sure you guys have experience in the industry obviously and talking with some of the folks that you talk about, you must get a lot of different opinions on what exactly SEO is.

Jon Henshaw: Definitely. And you mentioned ranking which has been traditionally sort of a core component of what people think of when they're doing SEO and what they're actually reporting on to their clients.

And the thing is, is that what ranking was a few years ago, it's not the same as it is today. And I think we know why which is the search engines, particularly Google, it just depends on who you are, if you're logged in with your account, where you are, now obviously who you're connected with with G+ and because of all of those things who knows what results you're going to get..who knows what the results are going to be that you're going to get.

And so what's happening in sort of the rank checking world is it's getting really just unpredictable. I mean, you don't know what you're going to get. You have people at one end, and one of the biggest frustrations that I know rank checkers have, and I know this because we used to check them ourselves and now we, of course, use Authority Labs but I think all of them have the difficulty of that customer saying, well, this isn't what I'm seeing!

And so I think it's going to get worse and worse. And so I think what's changed with ranking is that ranking has become, or should be becoming, less important of a metric. And, instead the focus should be on organic referrals because that's really the most reliable thing that you can look at and report on.

So, in other words, if I were an agency or just even an individual SEO guy who was doing work for a customer I would make the metric be, am I increasing your organic traffic instead of where do I rank for your pet term? You know, and I think that's the biggest change. That's what I've seen over the past few years. There's still a lot of resistance to that just because they don't want it to be true but I think the reality is, is that rank checking is still going to be important because it still gives you an indication of health and gives you some idea of sort of how you're performing even if it's going to get to a point where it could never be 100% accurate.

So it'll still play a role and we're still going to keep having that data in our system but the big, big factor is going to be actually what Google Analytics is providing and whatever stacks package you use.

And to be able to say that we increased your organic traffic by 100% and on top of that your conversions went up. I think that's becoming more important.

Eric: Right, yeah. Do you guys have any plans to integrate that stuff? You do work with Authority Labs. Do they do a lot of stuff with their incorporating universal results that you guys might be able to do because I know some of the software tools do that? That could be helpful

I think especially on the agency side of things you find that people tend to lead their value add with rankings, right? I mean, you can but that's a big mistake. If anything, if you're going to have conversations about rankings you have to attach an element of conversion optimization to that too you can't just leave it at the door.

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, and that's something that we're talking to Authority Labs with right now and they actually do provide universal results with the data and they're trying to update the API that we're using so we can actually present that.

So as soon as we can present that we're going to and then on top of that as far as where we're taking things in the future, we're going to be supporting the ability to edit your ranking results, the ability to import ranking results from other third parties. So, yeah, so we're working on that, it's not available right now, but that is something that we know people have been asking for, for quite a while.

Eric: Okay. So, we talked about all of these things with how the sort of element of ranking being less and less of a flagship sort of metric to report, at least on client sites or even on sites that SEO's might run themselves, affiliate sites, or sites where revenue is driven by AdSense or something to that affect.

But I think what a lot of people would be interested to know, and I love getting opinions on this from a bunch of people all across the industry, that if you were starting in an SEO company today how would you approach the key elements of the business, you know, what are the core competencies that you think not only that are effective, but I think there's something a disconnect between what is actually or what should be a core competency for an SEO firm, you know, link outreach, all of these things, but some of those things are hard to quantify to a client.

You know, we've reached out to 400 sites and we obtained two links. Well, that can be a bit difficult to report on but with things like link outreach or just good old fashioned PR, social development, community building, rankings, conversions, all of those things, what would you promote to your clients as the value add that your agency or your company would bring to the table?

Taylor Pratt: You know, if it were me back in my agency days what we tried to focus on was... we all say that we want to focus on conversions but I think getting even more specific than that, having specific interaction goals for different aspects of your organic traffic. So what I'd probably do is talk about how we look at both branded and non-branded traffic and we separate them. I want to have specific goals for my branded traffic that I expect them to be able to complete if they came to us organically.

And then from a non-branded standpoint, I want to be able to do the exact same things. And building off of what we talked about earlier I think going into those meetings now and telling them, hey, you know, looking at releases like when Google announced the whole not provided thing, as an agency I need to be prepared to say to my client, well, you know what, we have a work around for that. We have a pay-per-click campaign that's going so we can still get the traffic insight behind each keyword so we know which ones we should be focusing on the most.

And I think presenting it to the client as you being able to adapt to the changing market and you not focusing just on one individual aspect is really going to be what shows them that they should be going with you over somebody else.

Eric: Right, yeah, and I think those are good points. Because I see it too, sometimes people are starting an agency, they look for things that they can…you know, like rankings are still such a big thing and I know there was some press last year about how rankings are dead. I know Jon wrote a post kind of countering that and I did as well. I don't think that's the case either but I think it seems like people are still, or in some cases, leading with rankings. But the problem is it takes X amount of months to get there for some terms and then you find out that the traffic isn't there in the first place really if you're relying on keyword tools.

So, that's interesting because I think right now we have a lot of people that read this blog and in the community that sort of run their own sites a little bit and then you've got people who are doing some client work. Are you seeing more of an increase in folks who maybe in the past where just sort of individual SEO's that are now filtering over to taking on some more client stuff?

Taylor Pratt: Yeah, you know, I can speak for myself personally. I'm starting to take over Raven's pay-per-click work and going into it I knew enough just pretty much what any SEO would know, pretty much what any SEO would know about pay-per-click.

I wouldn't know enough to run a campaign from start to finish so starting to ramp up on that. And it's interesting that over the last couple of months, really since not provided or at least have seen, a lot more articles around pay-per-click showing up on industry blogs. It's starting to get a lot more coverage and I think people are starting to realize that, hey, I could pretty much get more concrete results out of my SEO program if I would just focus a little bit more time in these other areas.

Because, like you said around figuring out that, hey, if I'm targeting one keyword and a couple of months down the line once I start ranking for it, I'm not getting the traffic I expected, well, we could have identified that if we just ran a traditional test just to see.

I mean, you can run pay-per-click tests without even getting clicks. I just want to see how many impressions I can get so I can estimate how much traffic I could potentially get if I was ranking for that keyword.

So trying to get a better fit or a better feel for those numbers, there's a lot that you could be doing with that.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. The pay-per-click is absolutely the best keyword keyword research tool. So when you think of all of the time you spend digging through the AdWords keywords tool and then digging through like Wordtracker or other competitive research tools, if you took a few hundred bucks and threw it at PPC just for accidental clicks right and you threw a pay-per-click campaign up with all the keywords that you're looking at you'd be much better off.

Jon Henshaw: And, I was going to throw out that of course Google has done an excellent job of positioning it as one of your best options.

Eric: Yeah, yeah (laugh). And they're certainly not shy about throwing out those coupons either.

Taylor Pratt: No, they play me like a fiddle, that's for sure!

Eric: Yeah. I think the big thing, you know, in addition to on the SEO side of things with all of the stuff that Google's been doing and continues to do especially with the Plus 1 sort of approach, is the evolution of link building where a lot of times it's just been basic. Where we have all of these sort of tactics that have been working for a long time that I think it can be effective but I think if you're looking mid to long-term on trying to build out, if you run your own sites or even clients that you need to see that it is almost evolving into like a sales and PR type of role.

Do you think it's become a little bit less about pure link metrics like page rank or some of the other stuff that's out there like the (MAS) rank, (MAS) trust follow versus no follow or somewhere in the middle but I think it's definitely evolved towards being more of a relationship type of approach and a PR type of approach. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about that.

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, I totally agree. If you look back on even the very early days of link building it was basically build a link anywhere you can get it. I mean, it didn't even matter what site it was, it didn't matter where it was on the page, then as that evolved Google evolved with that. It ended up becoming, well, you may not want it on the footer or you may want it in a different place or you might want to have it on a relevant page. There's still many industries, many site types that I would say even up to today, because I still hear stories from some pretty hardcore people out there that are like, oh yeah, footer links are still well alive for my particular thing.

But I think for the most part, for most people, you hit the nail on the head with it's about relationships. And so that's basically where we talk about predicting where things are going, well, we're seeing it as it's already there and it's only going to increase as far as what's important in link building is going to be building relationships with site owners, with editors, it will also be extremely important to build relationships socially so that you're connected with people who have some degree of influence socially. And so with that one of the things that you said is, is it important to care about (MAS) rank or page rank or any of these other things? And I think it still is important. So, and the way I approach it, which I think is a fairly practical way, is it's important to have as many pieces of data and metrics as possible.

It's the same reason why I think that rank checking will remain important to some extent. I think the same is true with these different metrics. It's not going to be, nor should it be, the main thing that you focus on. The main thing that you should focus on, in my opinion, are relationships with people who are relevant to what you're trying to market.

And that's where what you just mentioned a second ago, that's where PR comes in. It's very PR-like. So that's where I think it's going and that's what we're going to be focusing on but we're going to continue to include those other metrics just because I think they help you see the full picture so that, for example, when you're doing research, trying to find sites or people that you want to connect with, that data really kind of helps round out your decision like, okay, this is all of the things that kind of get in here and even what I'm just looking at and making a judgment on, looks pretty good. I think I'm going to contact this person.

Eric: Like when I look for people that I might want to bring on board to do some link building for some sites it's almost like you ignore, to a degree, SEO experience and what you're focusing on is, is this person salesy? Are they good at PR? Where before it was more of a like hunker down and look for stuff I'll reverse engineer this and that and pull this report, which is all still important certainly

Jon Henshaw: Right.

Eric: But for those really premium type links that I think competition can't get you really ought to have folks like that going forward.

Jon Henshaw: And I think content should be thrown out there too which is..and I don't mean as if you write good content you will rank type of thing but more along the lines of one of the best link building outreach methods is guest blogging. And if you can present yourself in a way that is one that's not too salesy, but, two, can really, really benefit that site meaning you better have a good writer on staff or somebody hired on a contract basis, it's altruistic in the sense that I can get you something really good.

In fact, I'm going to go out of my way and I'm going to spend over $15 dollars on something. I might spend $100 or $200 buck to have a really good article put on somebody else's site with the idea that I'm going to have a decent link to my site. It'll be on a relevant site. So that to me is a pretty important component and that's something that we focused on too and we're going to continue to focus on. So, for example, we've automated some of that which is you can go through Textbroker on Raven or you can have your own writers on staff or through contract and then they can log in and they can save the articles that they write and our content manager.

Eric: Yeah, definitely - content, yeah absolutely. That's a great feature of Raven too. The example that I give sometimes in the forums when people ask about creating…how do we create a piece of content that's time tested. Like, I always give the example of David Mihm who creates the local search ranking sites. You can do something like that for your industry, I mean, just think of things like that. Most industries you can come up with something that the competition isn't doing and then you just... you almost don't have to significantly promote it after the first couple of times. People just naturally look for it. So, yeah, that's definitely a big piece there.

And I think, you know, like I said before, we have a lot of folks inside the forums and that read the blog that are different it's such a hybrid of people who market their own sites and they monetize it in different ways. They've got clients and all of these other things. We always talk about how creating your own product, ultimately, you know, it typically ends up being the most rewarding in the long run, certainly other methods can significantly increase your companies revenue or an individual Web masters revenue. But, when we talk about long-term things and not relying on affiliate networks or AdSense serving or things like that we talk about products and I think, you know, Raven is a great case study in identifying a particular market, the need of a market, creating the product and then just marketing it.

Because, I think, sometimes people miss that. It's such a multi-step approach, it's not just find a market and exploit it with a great product. There's another piece to it which is the marketing which I think Raven does an excellent job on. So, what I would like to hear from you guys is, can you give us some insight into how you sort of went from thinking about Raven to developing it to marketing it and keep improving on it because that's the other piece too. It's not just create a product and dump it in the market and hope people buy it and never touch it again. You know, just some of the biggest hurdles you face, pitfalls and best practices.

Jon Henshaw: Sure, I can talk from a marketing standpoint of Raven since that's what my role is here. I joined Raven about two years ago and we had a pretty good idea with how we wanted to actually end up marketing the product and the first year that I was here, what we wanted to focus on was really cementing ourselves as a tool in the SEO industry. We wanted to let everyone know that these were powerful tools, they were things that they could rely on and we wanted to be known as an authority in that market. And last year what we really spent our time doing was focusing on becoming more of a workflow and collaboration tool. While we had these features before we needed to make it known that, hey, if you work with a team, if you want to collaborate on products with your clients or if you have a couple of contractors that you're outsourcing stuff to, this is a tool that will make that easier and so that's really our 2011 messaging was really focusing heavily on that.

But now what we run into is, Raven does more than just SEO. We have social media tools, pay-per-click tools, email is integrated into there so how do we now market to everyone and convince them that we're not just Raven SEO tools, we're Raven internet marketing tools? And I think that's really what our focus is going to be in 2012 is showing them that, one, you need to have a toolset that is flexible in all of those different areas and, two, that Raven actually fits those needs, we're not just SEO tools anymore.

Jon Henshaw: I think from a product standpoint we really started off working with other agencies and, in fact, we launched it and took it back offline, in a sense into like a very private beta for about six to nine months and we worked just side-by-side with several agencies; some in the US and some in the UK and they really helped us refine how the link manager should work and the types of things that need to be reported on. And then from there it was....
Eric:I think we lost him.

Taylor Pratt:Oh no.

Eric: Just wait for him to sign back on here. Just to continue talking about the marketing side of things a little bit, do you find that once you've started the marketing initially it seems like that's a good bit of work but it also seems like on the other end it's almost just as much work after you sort of establish yourself in the industry you've got to keep, you know, pushing and going to all of these different events and all of these other things.

Jon Henshaw: (completely unaware of the drop off :D ): I won't say because there are some secrets, you know. And so, you know, while Taylor and the marketing team, it's there job to really let people understand what the product does. It's our job, at least on the product side, to figure out is the product solving the problems that need to be solved in the market? And so if we're trying to approach SEO and social and PPC and other areas, are we making..you know, they use our software, are we making it harder for them or are we making it easier for them? And of course we want to make it so that it's a no-brainer. It's, by then, simply using it and putting their team members on there they're saving money.

Not only are they saving money they're managing their data better and they're able to report the information easier to themselves or to their client and so that's sort of a high-level example without a whole lot of details. But, that's really what we're focused on is how can we make this easier, at the same time how can we make it more robust and do all of the things that people need it to do, how can we solve problems that are not being solved by anybody on the market right now? And that's really what we're focused on. And, of course, all of that includes trying to absorb all of the different feature requests which also gives us an idea of what people really need. It's not just we don't have to just sit there and guess or dream up something on our own in a bubble. The feature requests are something that's extremely helpful and we have a lot of them. We have people who use the system intensely and everyday and they come up with some pretty amazing ideas.

Eric: I think we cut out there a little bit after the beta discussion. But I think the gist of it is when people talk about creating products it's so much more involved than just develop, market and sell, right? I mean it's obvious and I think we're aware of that but I think when people hear the six to nine months that you took in beta and you were working with these other agencies, I think sometimes that's the point that gets missed. Because you look at Raven and it's like the interface is so clean, it's so easy to use that people think, wow, that's pretty simple right? I mean, I think its what Basecamp's competitors have been thinking for such a long time. It's so simple and easy, I could do that, right?

Jon Henshaw: I would say our biggest problem and the one that we're looking to solve this year is while you are somebody who knows exactly what you're doing, you know and when you get in there you know how to use the system, ah, that's simple. This does this I understand the terminology and what's going on here. It's not for the novice and so it's funny because there's that weird dichotomy there. And so you have somebody else that comes in and says this is the most complicated thing I've ever seen in my life.

I mean, and that's some of the cancellation messages that we get. It was like, what are you trying to do? And so our big or one of our big initiatives this year is to put education in place for those people and also for teams. We have a lot of agencies that are wanting the ability to say, hey, I really love what you're doing here, I get it.

I want my team to be on here but I need training. And so those are things that we're working on and then the other thing, on the product side, is incorporating more contextual help and so we've started to slowly roll out what we're calling the help box and so it's the first time that we've ever been to a tool in the system. You actually see this help box that pushes down everything else and that gives you a brief description, it gives you a really quick screen cast of what the tool does and then it also links you out to the knowledge base. So, those are things that as we grow and we sit back and kind of go, okay, where are we loosing people? Where are they getting confused? We know that that's something that we really have to work on.

Taylor Pratt: And there's an overlap with that with marketing too. I mean, we need to be teaching people how to use the tools. We're trying to do that more on the blog. You know, we also have that stance that we're not going to tell you how to do your job but we need to show you the benefits of using Raven when you are doing your job. And so like Jon said, that education, I think, is really going to be helpful for users who are still trying to figure out, all right, well, what's the logic behind this? Why is it important that these two tools are working together and we're trying to show that both within the tool itself but then outside too. So if you are just trying to evaluate it or you are looking for a tool and you're not sure if Raven does that, hopefully we'll be able to demonstrate that through our blog posts, our training Webinars what have you.

Eric: So, for 2012 are there any, you know, I'm sure no competitors are listening so feel free to just lay it all out there. For 2012, any product teases we can get? Anything you think that people might be interested in?

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, I'll tell you a few things that I've publicly talked about and then I'll hint towards one thing and then there are still several big things that I will not give a clue to that we're working on.

Eric: Fair enough :)

Jon Henshaw: And I will say also, if you go to our blog I think maybe in January or December I wrote an open letter to Raven customers and there's a really good rundown of all of the things that we did in 2011 and it's huge. I was actually shocked when I wrote it. I was like, I had no idea that we did all of this. It was a good year!
Eric: Yeah.

Jon Henshaw: But the things that we're going to be doing in 2012 I'm very confident is going to be a bigger year than 2011. And the other thing that makes me confident about that is we've been ramping up on developers. We are truly a software company now and we, I think, (this year) we've just had two developers start yesterday, I haven't even seen them yet, but it's something that we're getting even more aggressive on so I'm excited about that. The things that I can easily tell you about that we're going to be working on releasing soon is we have another major social update coming down the pipeline so when we launched our social stream, real time social streams, social monitoring, it didn't have everything I wanted but we did want to release it by (unintelligible) 32.19 so we had sort of finishing up some really awesome features that didn't quite make it in November will be coming out pretty soon.

We are actively working on the Chrome toolbar, that got delayed for several months but that is back on schedule. But you're going to see a lot of improvements in the social area particularly with Facebook and Twitter and the (stream). We're going to be doing more improvements on our AdWords management tool, so you'll see a lot of nice new things coming down there. We should be adding G+ and LinkedIn this year, probably first half of the year and we're also working on the ranking result importing which I mentioned earlier in the end of the year.

So, those are things that are more public. The one hint, the on thing that I will throw out there, just because it's really relevant to the conversation we've been having is we are focusing on relationships in a way that we haven't done in the system before. So there's going to be something exciting coming down the pipeline in regards to that as far as helping people who do link building outreach and other areas. So that's coming. I expect it in the first half of this year and that's something I'm really excited about.

Eric: Yeah, that definitely sounds interesting, I'll be watching for that. Well, it sounds like you've got a lot to do so I won't keep you much longer. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you guys for hoping on today. I'm going to get this up on the blog here. We'll put it in mp3 format so people can listen to it whenever they want, we'll get all of the text up there. For all of you listening out there, certainly give Raven a shot. I think you guys are still running 30-day trials, right?

Taylor Pratt: Oh yeah.

Eric: Definitely work with it a little bit. I personally have gone back and forth. I think a lot of folks maybe who are used to using software and things like that it might take an adjustment or two but I can personally let folks listening know that I'm going to put a lot more of my stuff in there. I just think it really just cuts down on a lot of the manual work; these crazy spreadsheets and my Dropbox is exploding and it's insane but definitely work with it and give it a shot.

It's going to be new especially to folks I think that do a lot of stuff that I might be doing with the software and stuff but it'll make your life a lot easier and the reporting is unreal. So, certainly give it a shot and, again, thanks to Jon and Taylor for hopping on with us today!

Taylor Pratt:Thanks for having us.

Jon Henshaw: Thanks for having us.

Eric: All right guys, take care.

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Scalable Link Outreach with Gmail and Boomerang

Jan 10th
posted in

Sometimes it's the little things in life....Boomerang for Gmail (and Outlook) is an incredibly useful, lightweight, powerful link outreach app.

Link building has a special place in the SEO industry. Beyond being one of the harder skill-sets to master and acquire, link building is likely the most important element of an SEO campaign.

Link building can also be the most difficult job to:

  • Scale internally and externally
  • Train someone to do efficiently
  • Outsource
  • Hire someone for

How to hire link builders and how to train them are certainly worthy of their own (upcoming) blog posts but this post is going to sing the praises of a Gmail and Outlook plugin that is essential for my link building workflow.

Boomerang for Gmail (and Outlook)

Outside of the really cool name this plugin makes my workflow much more streamlined and efficient.

I don't use Outlook so I'll be focusing on the Gmail plug-in here. The Outlook plugin has most of the functionality of the Gmail edition (minus the Send On options) and you can check out the Outlook version here.

The key benefits to using Boomerang (referencing the Gmail app going forward) are:

  • Schedule emails to be sent at a later date/time
  • Set reminders on emails so they pop back up at a specified time
  • Set email reminders from your smartphone

Send Emails Later

You can install Boomerang for Gmail here. You can use this for Gmail and Google apps and you'll need to use Firefox or Chrome.

You'll manage Boomerang in two places; you can get to it in your Gmail toolbar:

From here you can access your scheduled messages to make any changes and access various help and how-to's.

The other area where you access Boomerang is in the email dialogue box. When you go to compose a new message or click to reply to one you'll see the Boomerang button and see all the options available for sending the message:

If you click on anything other than the specific time option at the bottom, the message is scheduled straight away.

If you need to access your Boomerang-ed messages, just go back to the top Gmail toolbar, click Boomerang, and click access Scheduled messages.

The other cool option when composing a new message is listed right below the subject line. From here you can have Boomerang return the message to your Inbox if no one replies or even if they do (marked as unread, starred, etc; these options can be changed in the "access scheduled messages" option on the top Gmail/Boomerang toolbar option):

You have the exact same option when replying to messages as well.

This is incredibly useful for a variety of link building actions such as:

  • Tracking the effectiveness of email pitches
  • Scheduling a bunch of pitches to line up with various promotions and outreach campaigns, in one shot
  • Using in conjunction with Gmail's canned responses for scalable link outreach and management
  • Never forget about a link prospect
  • Make Gmail a self-contained link outreach system for staff members
  • Avoid awkward time zone issues on email deliveries if you have staff outside your targeted market's location

Email Reminders

While the Send On features are the most useful for link outreach, the Reminder functions can be useful as well.

Boomerang has Gmail-like functionality in the way it auto-offers a solution. Here you can see I've got a Staples coupon that expires on January 16th. Boomerang is asking me if I'd like to return this to my inbox on that date:

Outside of that functionality you can click the Boomerang reminder icon in the toolbar to get the reminder options available to you:

So rather than setting something in your calendar or in your task management application, you can use Boomerang to re-populate the email when needed.

You can add a condition to this and say that you only want to be reminded of the message at the selected time "IF" no one responds, simply by checking that option above. Otherwise, it will come back whether someone responds or not.

You can also use your iPhone, Blackberry, or Android to set up a message for yourself to arrive in your inbox at a certain time with their mobile option.

Privacy Concerns

Letting an app access your data on mail.google.com shouldn't be taken lightly. Here is what they say about privacy:

Why does Boomerang for Gmail need access to my email account?

Like most other Gmail plugins, we need access to the full email data to be able to move and send messages. In our queries, we only store the headers of the message (subject, sender, time) so that we can uniquely ID the message you want to schedule. We don't store any message text.
Does it mean you have my Gmail password?

No, we don't have access to your Gmail password. You are authorizing through Google's official OpenID system.

Sign Up for Boomerang

You can get a full-featured pro account trial for free, for 30 days here. I am anxious for them to release the open/click tracking for even deeper link outreach analysis.

If you are looking for a more enterprise level solution, with team-wide tracking and monitoring, please check out our reviews of Buzzstream and Raven Tools.

Website Auditor Review: A Full-Featured On-Page Optimization Tool

Dec 28th
posted in

website-auditor-enter-url

Website Auditor is one of the 4 tools found in Link-Assistant's SEO Power Suite. Website Auditor is Link-Assistant's on-page optimization tool.

We recently reviewed 2 of their other tools, SEO Spyglass and Rank Tracker. You can check out the review of SEO Spyglass here and Rank Tracker here.

Update: Please note that in spite of us doing free non-affiliate reviews of their software, someone spammed the crap out of our blog promoting this company's tools, which is at best uninspiring.

What Does Website Auditor Do?

Website Auditor crawls your entire site (or any site you want to research) and gives you a variety of on-page SEO data points to help you analyze the site you are researching.

We are reviewing the Enterprise version here, some options may not be available if you are using the Professional version.

In order to give you a thorough overview of a tool we think it's best to look at all the options available. You can compare versions here.

Getting Started with Website Auditor

To get started, just enter the URL of the site you want to research:

website-auditor-enter-url

I always like to enable the expert options so I can see everything available to me. Next step is to select the "page ranking factors:

wa-select-page-factors

Here, you have the ability to get the following data points from the tool on a per-page basis:

  • HTTP status codes
  • Page titles, meta descriptions, meta keywords
  • Total links on the page
  • Links on the page to external sites
  • Robots.Txt instructions
  • W3C validation errors
  • CSS validation errors
  • Any canonical URL's associated with the page
  • HTML Code Size
  • Links on the page with the no-follow attribute

Your next option is to select the crawl depth. For deep analysis you can certainly select no crawl limit and click the option to find unlinked to pages in the index.

wa-step-3

If you want to go nuts with the crawl depth frequently, I'd suggest looking into a VPS to house the application so you can run it remotely. Deep, deep crawls can take quite awhile.

I know HostGator's VPS's as well as a Rackspace Cloud Server can be used with this and I'm sure most VPS hosting options will allow for this as well.

I'm just going to run 2 clicks deep here for demonstration purposes.

Next up is filtering options. Maybe you only want to crawl a certain section or sections of a site. For example, maybe I'm just interested in the auto insurance section of the Geico site for competitive research purposes.

Also, for E-commerce sites you may want to exclude certain parameters in the URL to avoid mucked up results (or any site for that matter). Though there is an option (see below) where you can have Website Auditor treat pages that are similar but might have odd parameters as the same page.

Another option I like to use is pulling up just the blog section of a site to look for popular posts link-wise and social media wise. Whatever you want to do in this respect, you do it here:

wa-step-4-filtering-options

So here, I'm included all the normal file extensions and extension-less files to include in the report and I'm looking for all the stuff under their quote section (as I'm researching the insurance quote market).

The upfront filtering is one of my favorite features because I exclude unnecessary pages from the crawl and only get exactly what I'm looking for, quickly. Now, click next and the report starts:

wa-step-5-searching

Working With the Results

Another thing I like about Link-Assistant Products is the familiar interface between all 4 of their products. If you saw are other reviews, you are familiar with the results pane below.

Before that, Website Auditor will ask you about getting more factors. When I do the initial crawl I do not include stuff that will cause captchas or require proxies, like cache dates and PR. But here, you can update and add more factors if you wish:

wa-more-factors

Once you click that, you are brought to the settings page and give the option to add more factors, I've specifically highlighted the social ones:

wa-social-factors

I'll skip these for now and go back to the initial results section. This displays your initial results and I've also highlighted all the available options with colored arrows:

wa-results-pane-large

Your arrow legend is as follows:)

  • Orange - You can save the current project or all projects, start a new project, close the project, or open another project
  • Green - you can build an white-labeled Optimization report (with crawl, domain, link, and popularity metrics plugged in), Analyze a single page for on-page optimization, Update a workspace or selected pages or the entire project for selected factors, Rebuild the report with the same pages but different factors, or create an XML sitemap for selected webpages.
  • Yellow - Search for specific words inside the report (I use this for narrowing down to a topic)
  • Red - Create and update Workspaces to customize the results view
  • Purple - Flip between the results pane, the white-label report, or with specific webpages for metric updates

Workspaces for Customizing Results

The Workspaces tab allows you to edit current Workspaces (add/remove metrics) or create new ones that you can rename whatever you want and which will show up in the Workspaces drop-down:

wa-workspaces

Simply click on the Workspaces icon to get to the Workspaces preference option:

wa-workspaces-options

You can create new workspaces, edit or remove old ones, and also set specific filtering conditions relative to the metrics available to you:

wa-eric-workspace

Spending some time upfront playing around with the Workspace options can save you loads of time on the backend with respect to drilling down to either specific page types, specific metrics, or a combination of both.

Analyzing a Page

When you go to export a Website Auditor file (you can also just control/command + a to select everything in the results pane and copy/paste to a spreadsheet) you'll see 2 options:

  • Page Ranking Factors (the data in the results pane)
  • Page Content Data

You can analyze a page's content (or multiple pages at once) for on-page optimization factors relative to a keyword you select.

There are 2 ways you can do this. You can highlight a page in the Workspace, right click and select analyze page content. Or, you can click on the Webpages button above the filter box then click the Analyze button in the upper left. Here is the dialog box for the second option:

wa-analyze-page-content

The items with the red X's next to them denote which pages can be analyzed (the pages just need to have content, often you see duplicates for /page and /page/)

So I want to see how the boat page looks, highlight it and click next to get to the area where you can enter your keywords:

wa-keywords-content-analysis

Enter the keywords you want to evaluate the page against (I entered boat insurance and boat insurance quotes) then select what engine you want to evaluate the page against (this pulls competition data in from the selected engine).

wa-choose-engines

The results pane here shows you a variety of options related to the keywords you entered and the page you selected:

wa-analysis-results

You have the option to view the results by a single keyword (insurance) or multi-word keywords (boat insurance) or both. Usually I'm looking at multi-word keyphrases so that's what I typically select and the report tells you the percentage the keyword makes up of a specific on-page factor.

The on-page factors are:

  • Total page copy
  • Body
  • Title tag, meta description, and meta keywords
  • H1 and H2-H6 (H2-H6 are grouped)
  • Link anchor text
  • % in bold and in italics
  • Image text

Website Auditor takes all that to spit out a custom Score metric which is mean to illustrate what keyword is most prominent, on average, across the board.

You can create a white-label report off of this as well, in addition to being able to export the data the same way as the Page Factor data described above (CSV, HTML, XML, SQL, Cut and Paste).

Custom Settings and Reports

You have the option to set both global and per project preferences inside of Website Auditor.

Per Project Preferences:

  • Customer information for the reports
  • Search filters (extensions, words/characters in the URL, etc)
  • Customizing Workspace defaults for the Website reports and the Web page report
  • Setting up custom tags
  • Selecting default Page Ranking Factors
  • Setting up Domain factors (which appear on the report) like social metrics, traffic metrics from Compete and Alexa, age and ip, and factors similar to the Page Factors but for the domain)
  • XML publishing information

Your Global preferences cover all the application specific stuff like:

  • Proxy settings
  • Emulation settings and Captcha settings
  • Company information for reports
  • Preferred search engines and API keys
  • Scheduling
  • Publishing options (ftp, email, html, etc)

Website Auditor also offers detailed reporting options (all of which can be customized in the Preferences area of the application). You can get customized reports for both Page Factor metrics and Page Content Metrics.

I would like to see them improve the reporting access a bit. The reports look nice and are helpful but customizing the text, or inputting your own narratives is accessed via a somewhat arcane dialog blog, where it makes it hard to fix if you screw up the code.

Give Website Auditor a Try

There are other desktop on-page/crawling tools on the market and some of them are quite good. I like some of the features inside of Website Auditor (report outputting, custom crawl parameters, social aspects) enough to continue using it in 2012.

I've asked for clarification on this but I believe their Live Plan (which you get free for the first 6 months) must be renewed in order for the application to interact with a search engine.

I do hope they consider changing that. I understand that some features won't work once a search engine changes something, and that is worthy of a charge, but tasks like pulling a ranking report or executing a site crawl shouldn't be lumped in with that.

Nonetheless, I would still recommend the product as it's a good product and the support is solid but I think it's important to understand the pricing upfront. You can find pricing details here for both their product fees and their Live Plan fees.

SEO Spyglass Review: A Brand New Link Source

Dec 22nd

SEO Spyglass is one of the 4 tools Link-Assistant sells (individually) and as a part of their SEO Power Suite.

We did a review of their Rank Tracker application a few months ago and we plan to review their other 2 tools in upcoming blog posts.

Update: Please note that in spite of us doing free non-affiliate reviews of their software, someone spammed the crap out of our blog promoting this company's tools, which is at best uninspiring.

Key Features of SEO Spyglass

The core features of SEO Spyglass are:

  • Link Research
  • White Label Reporting
  • Historical Link Tracking

As with most software tools there are features you can and cannot access, or limits you'll hit, depending on the version you choose. You can see the comparison here.

Perhaps the biggest feature is their newest feature. They recently launched their own link database, a couple of months early in beta, as the tool had been largely dependent on the now dead Yahoo! Site Explorer.

The launch of a third or fourth-ish link database (Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer, A-Href's rounding out the others) is a win for link researchers. It still needs a bit of work, as we'll discuss below, but hopefully they plan on taking the some of the better features of the other tools and incorporating them into their tool.

After all, good artists copy and great artists steal :)

Setting Up a Project for a Specific Keyword

One of my pet peeves with software is feature bloat which in turn creates a rough user experience. Link-Assistant's tools are incredibly easy to use in my experience.

Once you fire up SEO Spyglass you can choose to research links from a competing website or links based off of a keyword.

Most of the time I use the competitor's URL when doing link research but SEO Spyglass doubles as a link prospecting tool as well, so here I'll pick a keyword I might want to target "Seo Training".

The next screen is where you'll choose the search engine that is most relevant to where you want to compete. They have support for a bunch of different countries and search engines and you can see the break down on their site.

So if you are competing in the US you can pull data the top ranking site off of the following engines (only one at a time):

  • Google
  • Google Blog Search
  • Google Groups
  • Google Images
  • Google Mobile
  • YouTube
  • Bing
  • Yahoo! (similar to Bing of course)
  • AOL
  • Alexa
  • Blekko
  • And some other smaller web properties

I'll select Google and the next screen is where you select the sources you want Spyglass to use for grabbing the links of the competing site it will find off of the preceding screen:

So SEO Spyglass will grab the top competitor from your chosen SERP will run multiple link sources off of that site (would love to see some API integration with Majestic and Open Site Explorer here).

This is where you'll see their own Backlink Explorer for the first time.

Next you can choose unlimited backlinks (Enterprise Edition only) or you can limit it by
Project or Search Engine. For the sake of speed I'm going to limit it to 100 links per search engine (that we selected in a previous screen) and exclude duplicates (links found in one engine and another) just to get the most accurate, usable data possible:

When you start pinging engines, specifically Google in this example, you routinely will get captcha's like this:

On this small project I entered about 8 of them and the project found 442 backlinks (here is what you'll see after the project is completed):

One way around captchas is to either pay someone to run this tool for you and manually do it, but for large projects that is not ideal as captcha's will pile up and you could get the IP temporarily banned.

Link-Assistant offers an Anti-Captcha plan to combat this issue, you can see the pricing here.

Given the size of the results pane it is hard to see everything but you are initially returned with:

  • an icon of what search engine the link was found in
  • the backlinking page
  • the backlinking domain

Spyglass will then ask you if you want to update the factors associated with these links.

Your options by default are:

  • domain age
  • domain ip
  • domain PR
  • Alexa Rank
  • Dmoz Listing
  • Yahoo! Directory Listing
  • On-page info (title, meta description, meta keywords)
  • Total links to the page
  • External links to other sites from the page
  • Page rank of the page itself

You can add more factors by clicking the Add More button. You're taken to the Spyglass Preferences pane where you can add more factors:

You can add a ton of social media stuff here including popularity on Facebook, Google +, Page-level Twitter mentions and so on.

You can also pick up bookmarking data and various cache dates. Keep in mind that the more you select, especially with stuff like cache date, you are likely to run into captcha's.

SEO Spyglass also offers Search Safety Settings (inside of the preferences pane, middle of the left column in the above screenshot) where you can update human emulation settings and proxies to both speed up the application and to help avoid search engine bans.

I've used Trusted Proxies with Link-Assistant and they have worked quite well.

You can't control the factors globally, you have to do it for each project but you can update Spyglass to only offer you specific backlink sources.

I'm going to deselect PageRank here to speed up the project (you can always update later or use other tools for PageRank scrapes).

Working With the Results

When the data comes back you can do number of things with it. You can:

  • Build a custom report
  • Rebuild it if you want to add link sources or backlink factors
  • Update the saved project later on
  • Analyze the links within the application
  • Update and add custom workspaces

These options are all available within the results screen (again, this application is incredibly easy to use):

I've blurred out the site information as I see little reason to highlight the site here. But you can see where the data has populated for the factors I selected.

In the upper left hand corner of the applications is where you can build the report, analyze the data from within the application, update the project, or rebuild it with new factors:

All the way to the right is where you can filter the data inside the application and create a
new workspace:

Your filtering options are seen to the left of the workspaces here. It's not full blown filtering and sorting but if you are looking for some quick information on specific link queries, it can be helpful.

Each item listed there is a Workspace. You can create your own or edit one of the existing ones. Whatever factors you include in the Workspace is what will show in the results pane as factors

So think of Workspaces as your filtering options. Your available metrics/columns are

  • Domain Name
  • Search Engine (where the link was found)
  • Last Found Date (for updates)
  • Status of Backlink (active, inactive, etc)
  • Country
  • Page Title
  • Links Back (does the link found by the search engine actually link to the site? This is a good way of identifying short term, spammy link bursts)
  • Anchor Text
  • Link Value (essentially based on the original PageRank formula)
  • Notes (notes you've left on the particular link). This is very limited and is essentially a single Excel-type row
  • Domain Age/IP/PR
  • Alexa Rank
  • Dmoz
  • Yahoo! Directory Listing
  • Total Links to page/domain
  • External links
  • Page-level PR

Most of the data is useful. I think the link value is overvalued a bit based on my experience finding links that often had 0 link value in the tool but clearly benefited the site it ended up linking to.

PageRank queries in bulk will cause lots of captcha's and given how out of date PR can be it isn't a metric I typically include on large reports.

Analyzing the Data

When you click on the Analyze tab in the upper left you can analyze in multiple ways:

  • All backlinks found for the project
  • Only backlinks you highlight inside the application
  • Only backlinks in the selected Workspace

The Analyze tab is a separate window overlaying the report:

You can't export from this window but if you just do a control/command-a you can copy and paste to a spreadsheet.

Your options here:

  • Keywords - keywords and ratios of specific keywords in the title and anchor text of backlinks
  • Anchor Text - anchor text distribution of links
  • Anchor URL - pages being linked to on the site and the percentages of link distribution (good for evaluating deep link distribution and pages targeted by the competing site as well as popular pages on the site...content ideas :) )
  • Webpage PR
  • Domain PR
  • Domains linking to the competing site and the percentage
  • TLD - percentage of links coming from .com, net, org, info, uk, and so on
  • IP address - links coming from IP's and the percentages
  • Country breakdown
  • Dmoz- backlinks that are in Dmoz and ones that are not
  • Yahoo! - same as Dmoz
  • Links Back - percentages of links found that actually link to the site in question

Updating and Rebuilding

Updating is pretty self-explanatory. Click the Update tab and select whether or not to update all the links, the selected links, or the Workspace specific links:

(It's the same dialog box as when you actually set up the project)

Rebuilding the report is similar to updating except updating doesn't allow you to change the specified search engine.

When you Rebuild the report you can select a new search engine. This is helpful when comparing what is ranking in Google versus Bing.

Click Rebuild and update the search engine plus add/remove backlink factors.

Reporting

There are 2 ways to get to the reporting data inside of Spyglass

There is a quick SEO Report Tab and the Custom Report Builder:

Much like the Workspaces in the prior example, there are reporting template options on the right side of the navigation:

It functions the same way as Workspaces do in terms of being able to completely customize the report and data. You can access your Company Profile (your company's information and logo), Publishing Profiles (delivery methods like email, FTP, and so on), as well as Report Templates in the settings option:

You can't edit the ones that are there now except for playing around with the code used to generate the report. It's kind of an arcane way to do reporting as you can really hose up the code (below the variables in red is all the HTML):

You can create your own template with the following reporting options:

  • Custom introduction
  • All the stats described earlier on this report as available backlink factors
  • Top 30 anchor URLs
  • Top 30 anchor texts
  • Top 30 links by "link value"
  • Top 30 domains by "link value"
  • Conclusion (where you can add your own text and images)

Overall the reporting options are solid and offer lots of data. It's a little more work to customize the reports but you do have lots of granular customization options and once they are set up you can save them as global preferences.

As with other software tools you can set up scheduled checks and report generation.

Researching a URL

The process for researching a URL is the same as described above, except you already know the URL rather than having SEO Spyglass find the top competing site for it.

You have the same deep reporting and data options as you do with a keyword search. It will be interesting to watch how their database grows because, for now, you can (with the Enterprise version) research an unlimited number of backlinks.

SEO Spyglass in Practice

Overall, I would recommend trying this tool out. If nothing else, it is another source of backlinks which pulls from other search engines as well (Google, Blekko, Bing, etc).

The reporting is good and you have a lot of options with respect to customizing specific link data parameters for your reports.

I would like to see more exclusionary options when researching a domain. Like the ability to filter redirects and sub-domain links. It doesn't do much good if we want a quick, competitive report but a quarter or more of the report is from something like a subdomain of the site you are researching.

SEO Spyglass's pricing is as follows:

  • Purchase a professional option or an enterprise option (comparison)
  • 6 months of their Live Plan for free
  • Purchase of a Live Plan required after 6 months to continue using the tool's link research functionality.
  • Pricing for all editions and Live Plans can be found here

In running a couple of comparisons against Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO it was clear that Spyglass has a decent database but needs more filtering options (sub-domains mainly). It's not as robust as OSE or Majestic yet, but it's to be expected. I still found a variety of unique links from its database that I did not see on other tools across the board.

You can get a pretty big discount if you purchase their suite of tools as a bundle rather than individually

Buzzstream Review: How Does it Measure Up?

Dec 19th
posted in

Buzzstream recently rolled out a beautiful UI update and I've been impressed with their offering for awhile now.

We like to review products which we ourselves use , as well as products that we feel are impressive. For me, Buzzstream fits both of those characteristics.

Buzzstream is a tool that I am fully adding to my toolset for 2012 and I think you should give it a shot as well.

What is Buzzstream?

Buzzstream has two products:

  • Buzzstream for Link Building
  • Buzzstream for Social Media

We will be focusing on the link building tool in this post. Buzzstream for Link Building focuses solely on link building functionality from soup (prospecting) to nuts (tracking, reporting, relationship management).

One of my favorite aspects of this tool is it's dedicated nature. It focuses on making link building more collaborative, more scalable, and more effective. It does all three quite well and reinforces the belief that sometimes a dedicated tool is the answer.

Why Buzzstream for Link Building?

Link building has come so far in recent years with respect to things like degree of difficulty, requirements of quality, as well as the need to track links and manage relationships.

Link building is such a key piece of an online marketing campaign (not just passing link juice but bringing in targeted, quality traffic and building up brand equity) to the point where I think having a robust tool for it makes a lot of sense; especially when you can use a tool like Buzzstream for it.

Here are some of the key features of Buzzstream that we'll be covering here:

  • Link Prospecting
  • Link Reporting and Tracking
  • Contact Management
  • IMAP Email Integration
  • Buzzmarker - Link Bookmarking Tool

Buzzstream Dashboard

The dashboard gives you a good, high-level overview of your account's history and tasks.

You can filter the history by:

  • Showing complete history (notes, emails, twitter, logged calls, blog comments)
  • One of the above mentioned history fields
  • Show for all projects or a specific project
  • All items for/from a user or for/from a specific user

The filtering capabilities are solid and make project spot checks very easy. For a quick export of your history, in .csv format just click on the folder to the left of the task area (in the right column).

Here is what the dashboard looks like:

To the right of the history pane is the task pane as well as recently viewed link prospects. The task pane also offers some good filtering capabilities:

I like the clean, visual look of the dashboard as well as the quick and helpful filtering capabilities. If you are running multiple campaigns with multiple members involved then I think you'll quickly appreciate the way Buzzstream has structured their dashboard.

Link Prospecting

To begin your link prospecting search, you can go to the Websites link and jump right in.

Then click on the Prospects icon to start your research. Here, you will need to set up a profile and up to 20 keywords and keyphrases for the search. I usually name the search after the main keyword I'm looking for, so in this case we'll rock SEO Tools and I'll throw in a couple more specific keywords for the search function.

In addition to prospecting you can specifically search the following countries:

  • USA
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • South Africa
  • Sweden
  • Spain
  • UK

You also have your choice between website results, news results, and blog results under the Search Type option.

Also, you can have this auto-run daily for new results (which is a great feature!) as well as have notifications sent to a specific person (you or a team member or contractor) when new results arrive.

If you no longer wish to receive results but want to save the search for later, just click the inactive button and reactivate when needed.

Another cool feature here is the blacklist feature. Dump in sites you wish to exclude from your searches on a per project or account-level basis. This is extremely helpful for streamlining new prospecting searches across your entire account. Block out competitors, your other properties, sites you know you'll never get a link from, etc).

Working With Link Prospects

When you open the profile again you are presented with the results.

The results come with default columns but you can click the Columns icon to play with tons and tons of additional, useful options

Click on that and get all these column options:

Buzzstream Data

  • Website
  • Assigned To
  • About
  • Most Recent Activity
  • Primary Contact
  • Job Title
  • Tags
  • Relationship Stage
  • RSS Feed
  • Links
  • Type

Dates

  • Date Added
  • Date Added To Project
  • Last Modified (any project)
  • Last Modified (this project)
  • Last Viewed (any project)
  • Last Viewed (this project)
  • Last Communication Date

Metrics

  • Followers (twitter)
  • Following (twitter)
  • Updates (twitter)
  • PageRank
  • Compete (UV/mo)
  • Inbound Links - SeoMoz
  • MozRank
  • Juice Passing Links
  • Domain Age
  • Overall Rating
  • Domain Authority

Address

  • Address Type
  • Address Line1
  • Address Line2
  • City
    State
    Zip
  • Country

Social Networks

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus

Contact Info

  • Preferred Contact Method
  • Email
  • Phone
  • "Contact Us" URL
  • Suggested Profile Info

Prospecting Metrics (for keywords in your search)

  • Highest SERP Position
  • Average SERP Position
  • SERP Count - Top 10
  • SERP Count - Top 20

Buzzstream does a good job here of giving you control over so many different options. The other nice thing here is you can add a bunch of metrics or customize whatever you want, do a quick export, and set everything back to normal if you don't want or need all these metrics every time.

Here's a snippet of what the results look like with no filtering:

From here you can do all sorts of filtering with just about all of the options I outlined above. You can also click on a specific link and manage it at any point:

From here you can do just about anything:

  • Add a task, tag or note
  • Assign it to someone
  • Update the relationship stage
  • Rate the link
  • Put your own custom field in there
  • Copy or move it to another project (love this feature)
  • Remove it from the project
  • Check the WhoIS information
  • Approve it for the project
  • Add to your block list

Also, you can see the Twitter, FB, email, and phone icons next to each link. Buzzstream will pull those in when available. You can also add a site yourself but clicking the Add Site button where you can add as much or as little info as you have or want:

What I like to do is update the search with all the SEO related metrics and then filter (not looking for addresses or anything at this point, just SEO metrics).

Here are the filtering options:

The options pretty much cover everything you can add as a metric to their prospect results page. You can also create a specific filter and save it for future use (a big time saver for ongoing prospect research).

Once you are done filtering out the junk you can begin to work the prospect list by:

  • Assigning it to an employee or contractor or yourself :)
  • Updating the contact history by adding notes about contact history
  • Update the relationship stage

Once the link is secured you can simply add it to the tracking and reporting component by clicking on the link and selecting "approve".

There are so many filtering options and editing options, as mentioned above, that I really encourage you to get in there and play around with it. You can customize it to fit your specific link building needs (big or small) which is a really nice feature to have (a tool that can scale up or down with you and your business).

Link Reporting and Tracking

I went ahead and approved the link-assistant.com domain as being a link I recently secured. To work with approved links you just need to move on over to the Links tab:

Again, you have a ton of filtering options here:

Buzzstream, via the Column tab, gives you lots of helpful data on a per link basis to help with overall link management and reporting:

You can also import all your links by clicking the import tab (Buzzstream gives you a template to use for this right from the import dialog box)

From here the next logical step is to set up link tracking to automatically notify you of any changes to links you are tracking.

Link Tracking

Buzzstream offers automated and manual link tracking. Buzzstream will let you track the following link data types via their automated backlink checker (this runs every 2 weeks) and manual link checker:

  • Newly verified links
  • Links that have changed (anchor text, no-follow, and so on)
  • Links that have been removed
  • Previous linking pages that are 404's
  • Cache Date

You can select who receives this report, and the manual report via email. Manual reports can be completed by going to the links tab and clicking on the Run Backlink Checker Icon:

The report is then delivered to the specified email address (can be changed in project settings) in short order (longer for bigger checks of course).

I would recommend targeting the more important links here. There is a lot of churn on the web and link tracking tools, that are cloud based, do have tracking limits (Buzzstream comes in at 500 links for the basic plan, 25,000 for their Plus, and 100,000 for their Premium Plan). They also have a solo plan for 1 user and up to 1,500 tracked links.

They offer custom plans as well.

Link Reporting

The link reporting is good and is one area where I think they can use some improvement (ability to spit out anchor text distribution reports, upload logos,
automated report emailing, etc).

To generate a report you click on the pie (mmmmm pie) icon on the Links page:

Once you click there you get 2 options:

Link Report - reporting on link opportunities and completed links

Spend Report - reporting on the cost of links that cost money

Here is the dialog box for the Links Report:

Export options are PDF, HTML, and XML for Word and Excel.

The Spend Report is clean and simple to read, here is the dialog box for that:

The reports are quick to generate and clean. I think if they add some more customization options it will be a homerun; it's still better than most reporting options out there.

Keeping Up with Contacts

You can store, add, and access key contacts and their contact information within the People tab

Buzzstream People Tab

As with their other options there is a wide variety of filtering and column customization capability to help you slice, dice, and keep track of key contacts within a specific project (or through an entire account).

You can add in pertinent contact info like their name, numbers, associated websites, social network information, and so on. You can also keep a history of calls, notes, and emails (more on emails in a minute) right inside the contact's information center:

Buzzstream Contact Dialgo

IMAP Email Integration for Conversation Tracking

This is one of my favorite features. You can configure Buzzstream to automatically populate contact history on your link outreach campaigns:

Buzzstream Email Feature

If you are managing a team, or just your own link campaign really, this is a great feature to have. In addition to the other contact management features I mentioned above, this feature adds another layer of helpful contact management. Having CRM functionality inside of a link building tool is quite helpful when we talk about things like scaling link building campaigns and managing teams

When you add your email account you can also send email from Buzzstream. You can select any number of "People" or contacts that you want and work through them one by one by creating an email template (see below) and quickly customizing it to the specific person you are targeting

Using canned responses in Gmail is similar but the difference here is the integration with Buzzstream and the ease of going right through a selected list of contacts (and having it saved in their contact history automatically).

Buzzstream Outreach

Lots of people use BuzzStream as a database of all their prospects/partners and then slice and dice them for campaigns. So, for example, suppose you are trying to secure guest posts. You go to All Contacts (contacts for your whole account, not just one project) and select everything tagged "finance" that's a "guest post" type and that's linked to you in the past.

After that, you take those contacts of known finance guest post opportunities, copy them to a new project and then work that list. You cover a lot of this in your filter descriptions. Essentially, use the tagging and filtering system to build your own database for rinse and repeat solutions.

You can also track Twitter stuff (which can get out of hand quickly in terms of back and forth contact, real time) and works the same way as Buzzstream's IMAP integration.

For the Twitter tracking you can basically import a bunch of twitter lists into BuzzStream, start retweeting their content and then filter to find everyone you've retweeted three days ago (filter by: Communication History=tweet, contact modified=3 days ago).

Save this filter and you have a list of people to follow up with on a regular basis. You can then send a template-based email that refers to the retweet and use that as a quick in to perhaps securing a link opportunity.

The Buzzmarker

Buzzstreams' Buzzmarker gives you the ability to save a prospect's information from any browser. To set up the Buzzmarker you just go into your settings and drag the bookmarklet to your toolbar :D

Buzzstream Outreach

Here is a snippet of the Buzzmarker dialog box:

Buzzstream Outreach

Anytime you come across news stories, blog posts, and Twitter feeds that you want to store for future work inside of Buzzstream all you do is click on the Buzzmarker

The Buzzmarker pulls in lots of information and gives you options to do a variety of things like:

  • Add a task for the clipping
  • The ability to gather and note link information like acquistion method and link type, also checks to see if the site is linking to you already
  • Add contact info and social media profiles
  • Links through to contact info search in Google, Pipl, as well as Twitter and Linkedin Profile search via Google, Twellow, and Linkedin

Give Buzzstream a Shot

If you are looking for a strong link building tool which incorporates any of the features below, you should give Buzzstream a try:

  • Built in Link Prospecting
  • CRM Functionality
  • Scalability
  • Ease of Use
  • Permission and Access Control for Teams
  • Link Tracking and Reporting

Buzzstream is a quality link building and link management tool that is certainly worth trying out if you are engaged in link building activity. The reporting is stronger than most other options out there but I think they can do even better with it after seeing what they've done on the inside. If you do try them out let us know what you think in the comments!

Take it for spin, they have free trials available over at Buzzstream.Com.

Interview with Link Building Expert Melanie Nathan

Oct 20th
posted in

Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing one of my favorite link building experts, Melanie Nathan. Melanie has been involved in online marketing since 2003 and is a wonderful writer on all things link building in addition to being a well-respected link builder by her peers.

Melanie runs CanadianSEO, an internet marketing company based in Canada. You can check out some of her posts from the web here, follow her on Twitter here, and follow her on Google Plus here.

We hope you enjoy the interview!

So I see you started your career by running a successful e-commerce store, which you then sold off to a US company and then you moved into the client side of things. When did this all start and how did you decide to get into online, e-commerce stuff?

The e-commerce stuff started in 2003. My husband and I were operating a successful brick and mortar auto repair/aftermarket accessory store in Edmonton, where my husband’s dad (a skilled mechanic) would fix the vehicles and we would bling them up with cool accessories like euro tail lights and hid lighting kits. When we found out that our main manufacturer would be willing to drop ship their products directly to our North American customers, starting an online store seemed like no-brainer.

I fell in love with SEO shortly after that, mostly through experimentation with various e-commerce shopping carts and my frustration at not being able to find a decent one (at the time).

Some SEO's love the idea of running their own sites rather than working on client sites based on the difference between the ratio of profits to labor on your own sites versus client sites (relatively speaking). Some SEO's like doing both to help diversify their income streams, and some like pure client work. What lead you to decide to get into the client side of things?

I’m happy working for clients because I have a genuine interest in helping people and it’s extremely gratifying being able to impact someone’s life in such a way. On top of that, the work is constantly changing and I can pick and choose my projects therefore it never gets boring.

If there’s a downside, it’s that I don’t get many opportunities to experiment with different techniques or work on personal projects. This is why I’ve been slowly making time for the leap into the ‘other’ side of SEO (tool creation, affiliate marketing and yes, even some BHT) with some domains I own.

I figure, if I’m offering professional services, it’s best to be as experienced as possible in order to best serve my clients. If this leads to me eventually moving away from the client side of SEO though, then I might be open to the possibility.

If you’re interested in co-developing a link building tool or an affiliate site, ping me and we’ll talk ;)

You're well-known as a link building expert and you've written extensively on the subject. Can you walk us through how you approach/plan out a new client's plan (generally speaking) and talk about which tools you use and why?

Site owners mainly hire me in order to see measurable movement in the SERPs for their top keyphrases. This means, to help my clients stand out (where Google is concerned), I first need to see what they’re up against. I therefore always start with competitive research.

Among the tools I use are; SEOmoz Open Site Explorer & Competitive Link Research Tool. I’ve also been using SEOProfiler Competitive Backlink Intelligence tool lately. I also use Yahoo Site Explorer (I’ll sure miss this when it’s gone!) and, of course, Google itself.

I look for such things as; rankings of the site, number of root domains linking, quality of backlinks, backlink velocity and social media mentions. Once I chart out what each competitor’s link profile looks like, what I need to do in order to differentiate my client, becomes pretty apparent.

After that, it’s all about looking for prospects and then developing realistic ways to acquire links from them.

I read, and actually have Evernoted (is that the new word for bookmarking?) your Search Engine Journal post on "6 Super Tips For Creating a Natural Link Profile" and some of things you talk about there (back in 2010) might have helped sites weather parts of this latest Panda parade of updates.

Those tips are logical, solid, but require a good amount of work. Do you find that link building failures are a result of trying to look for shortcuts too often or just not being willing to really put a lot of natural effort into link building?

Thank you for Evernoting (love this) and mentioning that post.

In my experience, the majority of link building failures happen simply because the linkee was too busy thinking about THEIR needs rather than the needs of the linker. They also take shortcuts that often decrease their own chances, such as; sending bad email pitches and/or using generic email subject lines and/or using poor grammar etc.

Link building offers awesome rewards, but it can be an incredible amount of effort. If you’re unwilling or unable to put in that effort, I guarantee you’ll be disappointed with the results.

Of course, in some areas these kinds of natural links can be harder (sometimes much harder) between different sites. Do you think link building opportunities are existent enough in each market irrespective of the competition (big brands, strong sites, etc)?

Or, is it more of a budget issue on the client side when it comes to being unable to complete for really competitive stuff?

I’m always up for a challenge and I have yet to encounter a niche or market where links weren’t readily obtainable. Unfortunately, sometimes the techniques required to attract those links, just don’t fit within the client’s budget. In these cases, I recommend starting out small and, as the client sees more and more ROI, they’re happy to increase their budget. After all, some link building is better than no link building.

As far as eventually competing on a large scale, I’ll just say that most people grossly underestimate the power that high-quality links can have.

What are the key points you look for when identifying link opportunities? Do you consider pure link value to rankings and/or consider links that might be no-follow if they have the potential to bring targeted traffic to the site?

The main thing I focus on when selecting link prospects is; relevance. The link absolutely has to make sense or I won’t waste my client’s time on it.

After that, I look at the overall quality (How many links on the page? Is there any PR? Does it rank for anything?) and, to save a bit of time, I like to run it through the Raven Quality Analyzer (which tells me how many backlinks, indexed pages, age of domain etc). I do all of this in order to determine how much Google trusts the site and the likelihood of a link from the site directly affecting my client’s rankings.

As for nofollow links, let’s face it, clients don’t pay me to get them links that aren’t heavy hitting so I generally don’t pursue them (unless there’s a specific reason for doing so such as trying to help a paid link profile appear more natural). I don’t build links in humongous quantities though, so it all evens out.

If you’re building links for your own site though, I would never recommend turning down a link that makes sense…. even if it was nofollow.

As a provider of services, I see that you also offer a full suite of services. Has that evolved over the years from being mostly a link building company to now being a full service company?

Do you find this differentiates you from other providers and is that well-rounded approach one you'd recommend for someone starting a link building company today?

CanadianSEO has always offered a full line of SEO services, however over the years I’ve learned from experience that it’s the LINKS that get you where you need to be in Google hence why I’ve made link building my main focus. I now look at web design/site optimization and content creation as necessary steps in making sure your link efforts will have the desired effect.

Not sure if this sets me apart, but my clients are happy therefore I would probably recommend this approach to anyone running a SEO company. You absolutely have to be capable of attracting/acquiring/sourcing valuable links though, and this is something that apparently not every SEO is willing (or able) to do.

So let's say you are advising me on how to become a better link builder or a better manager of link building teams. What would your top 3 points be and what are maybe the top 3 myths or over-hyped points I should avoid?

Become a better link builder/manager by a) developing a system for tracking progress b) learning how to be persuasive to get what you want and c) never sacrificing quality in order to meet a deadline or fill a quota.

As far as myths, it may surprise many people to learn that both paid and reciprocal links are still effective as part of an overall link building strategy. I’m always trying to emphasize that Google doesn’t know as much about your links as you think it does. Especially when it comes to how your links are obtained. Yes, they do watch for certain obvious things (rate of links acquired, unnatural use of anchor text etc) but it’s totally ok to be creative. In fact it’s best. As long as you’re being logical, you’ll get the results you’re looking for.

Other than that, I still roll my eyes at people who say PageRank doesn’t matter when it comes to links. Hi, um, have you heard that Google still uses PR as a metric of quality? I’d like to offer those same peeps a link from a relevant PR0 or a link from a relevant PR7 and see which one they jump at.

Not that PR should be the ONLY metric you use when determining the value of a link prospect, but if you’re interested in making any impact on your rankings, it should definitely be taken into consideration.

For tracking link building efforts and for tracking the links you secure, do you use tools for that (like Raven or Buzzstream) or do you do that internally?

I still do it all internally/manually via custom Excel reports. Guess I’m still old-school in that regard.

A typical link report includes such data as; link URL, link anchor text, Google cache date, Raven Quality Score, relevancy info, link type, PR and link status. It has everything my clients need in order to see the progress of their link campaigns and its also great for keeping me organized as I’m often building links for many sites at once.

Please tell us what you think are going to be the most important aspects of link building going forward in this age of rapid algorithm changes and social signals?

Many people assume that link development is decreasing in importance, but this is far from the case. Links are still the simplest way for search engine spiders to judge the reliability of a webpage. However, the way that search engines view links is changing.

I’ve definitely seen (what I consider to be) evidence that Google is using social media mentions as a measure of quality. In an age where Facebook ‘likes’, Tweets and Google +1’s can be readily bought and sold though, one has to wonder about the longevity of such a system.

I almost feel sorry for Google in that no matter what they try to use as a measure of quality, there will always be ways to game it. I think this is precisely why they’re trying to move away from organic SERPs by diversifying them so much. It’s an imperfect system and I seriously don’t envy the position they’ve put themselves in.

As always, those that can keep up and adapt, will ultimately have the most success.

----

Thanks for your time Melanie! You can stay up to date with Melanie over at Twitter and Google Plus.

Melanie runs the show over at CanadianSEO.Com; a web marketing firm that offers web design, SEO, link building, and content creation services.

Link Assistant's Rank Tracker - A Complete Review

Oct 14th

Link Assistant's Rank Tracker Reviewed

Link Assistant offers SEO's a suite of tools, under an umbrella aptly named SEO Power Suite, which covers many aspects of an SEO campaign.

Link Assistant provides the following tools inside of their Power Suite:

  • Rank Tracker - rank tracking software
  • WebSite Auditor - on-page optimization tool
  • SEO Spy Glass - competitive link research tool
  • Link Assistant - their flagship link prospecting, management, and tracking tool

We'll be reviewing their popular Rank Tracking tool in this post. I've used their tools for awhile now and have no issue in recommending them. They also claim to have the following companies as clients:

  • Disney
  • Microsoft
  • Audi
  • HP

Rank Tracker is one of the more robust, fast, and reliable rank checking tools out there.

Update: Please note that in spite of us doing free non-affiliate reviews of their software, someone spammed the crap out of our blog promoting this company's tools, which is at best uninspiring.

Is Rank Tracker a Worthy Investment?

Rank Tracker offers a few different pricing options:

  • Free
  • Pro
  • Enterprise

All of the editions have the following features:

  • Unlimited sites
  • Unlimited keywords
  • Customizable reports (you can only save and print with Enterprise level however, kind of a drawback in my opinion. Pro accounts should have this functionality)
  • API key's
  • Human search emulation built in
  • User agent rotation
  • Proxy support
  • Proxy rotation
  • Google analytics integration
  • Multiple language support (English, German, Russian, French, Dutch, Spanish, Slovak)
  • Runs on Windows, Mac, Linux

All editions offer access to their keyword research features, with all the features included, the only difference here is the free edition doesn't allow KEI updates.

Rank Tracker Feature Set

Rank Tracker offers a keyword research tool and a rank checking component within the application. A more thorough breakdown of the feature set is as follows:

Keyword Research

I prefer to do my keyword research outside of tools like this. Generally specific tools seem to excel at their chosen discipline, in this case rank checking, but fall kind of short in areas they try to add-on. I like to use a variety of tools when doing keyword research and it's easier for me, personally, to create and merge various spreadsheets and various data points rather than doing research inside of an application.

However, Rank Tracker does offer a one-stop shop for cumbersome research options like various search suggest methods and unique offerings like estimated traffic based on ranking #1 for that specified term.

Overall, a nice set of keyword research features if you want to add on to the research you've already done.

Rank Tracker also gives you the option to factor in data from Google Trends as well as through Google Analytics (see current ranking for each keyword and actual traffic).

Rank Checking

As this is the core piece tool it's really no surprise that this part of Rank Tracker shines. Some of the interesting options here are in the ability to track multiple Google search areas like images, videos, and places.

In addition to the interesting features I mentioned above, Rank Tracker also includes a wide array of charting and design options to help you work with your data more directly and in a clearer way:

Usability is Top Notch

While the interfaces aren't the prettiest, this is one of one most user-friendly rank tracking tools that I've come across.

First you simply enter the URL you wish to track. Rank Tracker will automatically find the page AND sub-domain on the domain ranking for the keywords chosen, so you don't have to enter these separately.

You enter the site you want to check (remember, subpages and subdomains are automatically included)

Choose from a whole host of engines and select universal search if you wish to factor in places taken up by Google insertions into the SERPS:

Enter your keywords:

Let Rank Tracker go to work: (you can choose to display the running tasks as line views or tree views, a minor visual preference)

That's all there is to it. It is extremely easy to get a project up and running inside of this tool.

Working with Rank Tracker

Inside of Rank Tracker the data is displayed clearly, in an easy to understand format:

In the top part you'll get to see:

  • the keywords you selected
  • current rank compared to last rank
  • overall visibility (top rankings) in each search engine selected
  • custom tags you might decide to choose to tag your keywords with for tracking purposes or something

On the bottom chart you'll see three options for the selected search engine (bottom) and keyword (top):

  • ranking information for each search engine for the selected keyword
  • historical records (last check date and position)
  • progress graph (visual representation of rankings, customizable with sliders as shown in the picture)

The ranking chart shows the chart for the chosen keyword and search engine:

Within the ranking results page, you can select from these options to get a broader view of how your site is performing on the whole:

Customizing Rank Tracker

Inside of Rank Tracker's preferences you'll see the following options, most of which are self-explanatory:

This is where you can take advantage of some of their cooler features like:

  • adding competitors to track
  • adding in your Google Analytics account
  • customizing your reporting templates
  • changing up human emulation settings
  • adding in a captcha service
  • scheduling reports
  • adding in multiple proxies to help with the speed of the tool as well as to prevent blocks

You can track up to 5 competitors per Rank Tracker profile (meaning, 5 competitors per one of your sites).

Key Configuration Options

Rank Tracker has a ton of options as you can see from the screenshot above. Some of the more important ones you'll want to pay attention to begin with their reporting options.

You'll want to set up your company information as shown here: (this is what will show on your reports)

On a per profile basis you can customize client-specific details likeso:

You can create new and modify existing templates for multiple report types here as well:

Emulation settings are important, you want to make sure you are set up so your requests look as normal and human as possible. It makes sense to check off the "visit search engine home page" option to help it appear more natural in addition to having delays between queries (again, to promote a natural approach to checking rankings/searching).

One thing that irks me about Rank Tracker is that they have emulation turned off by default. If you don't adjust your settings and you try and run a moderately sized report you'll get a Google automated ban in short order, so be careful!

In addition to emulation, search approach is also worthy of a bit of tinkering as well. Given how often Google inserts things like images, products, and videos into search results you might want to consider using universal search when checking rankings.

Also, the result depth is important. Going deep here can help identifying sites that have been torched rather than sites that simply fell outside the top 20 or 50. 100 is a good baseline as a default.

Successive search gives you a more accurate view as it manually goes page by page rather than grabbing 100 results at a time (double listings, as an example, can throw off the count when not using successive search)

Finally, another important option is scheduling. You can schedule emails, FTP uploads, and so on (as well as rank checks) from this options panel. Your machine does have to be on for this to work (not in sleep mode for instance). In my experience Rank Tracker has been pretty solid on this front, with respect to executing the tasks you tell it to execute (consistently).

Software versus Cloud

There are some strong, cloud based competitors to Rank Tracker. Our Rank Checker is a great solution for quick checks and for ongoing tracking if you do not need graphical charts and such (though, you can easily make those in excel if you need to).

Competitors and Options

Raven offers rank tracking as a part of their package and there are other cloud based services like Authority Labs (who actually power Raven's tools) you can look into if you want to avoid using software tools for rank checking.

There are some drawbacks to cloud-based rank tracking though. Some of them do not have granular date-based comparisons as they typically run on the provider's schedule rather than yours.

Also, most cloud rank checking solutions offer limits on how many keywords you can track. So if you are doing enterprise level rank checking it makes sense to use a software tool + a proxy service like Trusted Proxies

Pricing and Final Thoughts

Rank Tracker offers a generous discount if you grab all their tools in one bundle. If you want to customize, schedule, and print reports you'll need the enterprise edition.

I think requiring the purchase of your top tier for the basic functionality of printing reports is a mistake. I can see having that limitation on the free edition, but if you pay you should get access to reports.

You can find their bundle prices here and Rank Tracker's specific pricing here. Also, similar to competitors, they have an ongoing service plan which is required if you plan to continue to receive updates after the initial 6 months.

Despite my pricing concern regarding the reporting options, I think this is one of the top rank checkers out there. It has a ton of features and is very simple to use. I would recommend that you give this tool a shot if you are in the market for a robust rank checking solution. Oh I almost forgot, rank checking is still useful :)

One More Note of Caution

Be sure to read the below complaints about how unclear & sneaky the maintenance plan pricing is. This is something they should fix ASAP.

The Future of Your SEO Career

Sep 28th

So here we are, aren't we? It's 2011, SEO is still not dead (despite a decade of claims to the contrary), but the landscape is very, very different in this post-Panda world. Most sites that have been hit by Panda (inclusive of all iterations) are still on ice some 7 months after the initial roll out.

Businesses have been destroyed, livelihoods ruined, and the future of a once thriving business is seemingly on the ropes for newcomers and seasoned veterans alike.

Seems like a good time to dial this up:

This all appears to be just fine with Google. As Eric Schmidt once said, "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool". How very elitist of you Mr. Schmidt.

What exactly is a brand anyway, to you? Is it content factories ranking for medical queries like "How to survive a heart attack" and other assorted medical terms?

Or maybe you think an article that is in the running for queries around avoiding heart attacks, written by a guy with an English degree, is something that isn't part of a cesspool?

Matt Cutts has highlighted health issues as a great example of why selling links was "evil." What his post didn't disclose at the time was that Google had built a half-billion Dollar enterprise selling illegal drug ads!

I don't know about you, but I sure don't want to read an article on a medical topic that could have life or death implications which is written by a guy with an English degree! The point is that the lines continue to become extremely blurred and the algorithm "adjustments" continue to become more and more severe.

The combination of those two attributes must give an SEO pause when thinking about short, mid, and long term strategies for their business model. One mistake or one algorithm update (completely out of your hands) can have devastating consequences for your business.

Talk is Cheap

Now we can queue the white hats (whatever the heck that means) who will now wax poetic about building "brands" the right way (whatever the heck that means) and begin to play the "I told you so" game as you struggle to survive. Keep in mind that salespeople will use your uncertainty against you, and try to calm your fears by telling you "everything is ok if you do things the right way".

Problem is, what is the "right" way and why aren't "they" doing it? There is no "right" way, rather, just all sorts of shades of gray.

Don't buy into the hype and save yourself a bit of sanity. The same people who will whip out their white hats at the first sign of algorithmic shifting are the same people who want to sell you something that, at its core whether it's a tool or product, is designed to give you information on how to manipulate search results (irrespective on how they frame the language).

Bottom line is that folks in the industry are confused, scared, nervous and it's easy for salespeople to prey on the scared and the informationally-poor to enhance their bottom line.

Keep this quote from Voltaire in mind when you are searching for answers or guidance in these times of uncertainty:

The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.

The best defense is education, experience, and information.

The Shrinking Google SERP

It's getting harder to breathe in the SERPS. We routinely point this out in various blog posts, but I thought now would be a good time to revisit this problem. As it continues to appear as if Panda was less about content farms and about something a bit more sinister the incredibly shrinking organic SERP is cause for concern as well:

Here you see one site with extended AdWords and organic sitelinks:

If you're not in the top 3, well then you're pretty much not in the game:

So much for SERP diversity:

A few key takeaways when looking at these results are that:

  • Competing and monetizing just on search traffic is probably not a good long term strategy (but can work short-mid term)
  • Google continues to layer on Google "stuff", becomes another competitor that is almost impossible to beat
  • You might want to explore PPC a bit more than you have in the past for more visibility, if the margins are available

It might make some sense to start evaluating the cost of your SEO efforts and figuring out how they could translate into getting your foot into other areas of traffic acquisition online via targeted advertising, media buys, monitoring blogs and forums for discussions about your market, keywords, or products. Spread the funds out to get maximum exposure in multiple areas (for both short term and long term positioning)

As you can see from the images, the long term viability of just relying on search engine traffic is likely to be a losing proposition.

Leveraging Your SEO Skills

SEO has long been more about marketing than making sure your title tags are perfect. A good SEO is a good marketer and it's been said on this blog over the years that SEO really should be part of a more holistic approach to an overall marketing strategy. However, many of you reading this might be in affiliate or Adsense camp rather than a full service SEO agency.

The good news for the SEO agency is that you have all sorts of ways to leverage your SEO skills. You can get into things like:

  • conversion optimization
  • email marketing
  • online media buys and adverts
  • analytics services
  • social media services
  • the venerable "design and development" market
  • offline advertising and tracking
  • local SEO and Google Places SEO as well as Yahoo! and Bing local

The options listed above are all items that can quite easily come up within the context of an SEO proposal or discussion and should make for fairly doable cross-sales or up-sells.

The problem with just selling rankings or traffic is that it's all too easy for the client to dismiss you after you've achieved rankings. What's worse, even if you achieve rankings there are no guarantees of results and going back to the client 4 months in to up-sell conversion optimization is usually a non-starter if the stuff you've delivered thus far is of little value ROI-wise.

No matter how effective your performance is, as an SEO you are working in someone else's ecosystem. Google may extend the AdWords ads or insert their own product search or local search or video search results right at the top and push your work down.

Part of your SEO career planning, if you are in it for the long haul, should involve you starting to take a serious look at some level of client work and/or refine your product offering to a more holistic one rather than one with a singular focus.

Affiliates Feeling the Squeeze

Since Google has clearly shown its true colors with respect to how they view affiliates on the AdWords side is it that hard to believe that is how they view affiliates on the organic side? In fact, one of our members received this email when applying their AdWords credit:

Hello Aaron Wall,
I just signed up for the Get $75 of Free AdWords with Google Adwords. After receiving an e-mail stating that I was to call an 877 number of Google Adwords, I was told in my phone call that affiliate marketing accounts were not accepted. I guess I confused by this statement. Is this in error? Or am I not understanding the Tip #3 for setting up an account for Google Adwords for promoting a website?
Thank you in advance for your time.
Sincerely,
Carole

Do you remember this video where the body language suggests AdSense is ok but OMG YOU'RE AN AFFILIATE (at approximately 0:38)!

Diversity, Diversity, Diversity

To counteract being viewed as a "thin affiliate", I'd suggest reading up on SugarRae's blog, specifically her affiliate marketing section.

Clearly you can build a quality affiliate site that is quite profitable, but how many can you reasonably expect to build out into thick, market leading sites without scaling high on internal costs to the point where margins become an issue or until Google monopolizes your SERPS?

Diversity is still key with respect to revenue streams but diversity between different revenue types (affiliate, adsense, client, product) is what you should be aiming for rather than just your garden variety diversity in revenue (just different sites of the same monetization method)

Where Do You Go From Here

The best thing you can do for your business is to stay out of debt. This is much easier said than done, especially if you live in the US where debt slavery is the norm and gets pretty ugly before you even have a chance to earn real money.

Being mostly debt free with some savings put away not only puts you in a better spot than most consumers but it also allows you to be less subjected to the whimsical nature of Google. Also, you can afford to be more patient, invest in new opportunities, and be less stressed out if some of your stuff turns down for a bit.

I'd venture to say that debt is probably a major reason why some folks went out of business after the Panda update and being debt free with some backup savings and income diversity helped keep some folks in the game.

Taking the First Steps

I would suggest that you take stock of your personal financial situation, your current revenue streams, your skill sets, and your feeling on the overall landscape of the industry and then start to make some decisions on the future of your career. With any update or change there are usually new opportunities that arise from the ashes of Google's scorched earth policy (or policies).

Now that Google is overtly spamming their own "organic" search results to try to capture the second click, riding as a parasite posting content on their own parasitical platforms is likely going to be an extremely profitable strategy in the coming years.

You might not make as much money posting content to Youtube as you made posting it to your own site, but you NEVER have to worry about Youtube disappearing from the search results.

The barrier to entry is getting much higher and rising fast. You need patience, capital, reliable/trusted information sources, and a bit of luck to succeed going forward. Within the span of a couple years it's gone from (mostly) the wild west to survival of the fittest. How do you plan on surviving?

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